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Movies | It's definitely not a film for all tastes or sensibilities, but its ability to reject clichés is quite an achievement

Issue: "New Orleans: Starting over," Sept. 24, 2005

We first meet Junebug's Madeline (Embeth Davidtz) and George (Alessandro Nivola) in an upscale Chicago art gallery. She's the gallery's owner; he's a potential buyer. They appear to be as elegant and refined as their names suggest. Shortly, we find that they are married and headed toward George's family home in North Carolina-the first visit for Madeline.

George's family is solidly Southern middle class. Mother Peg (Celia Weston) smokes in the kitchen and fills her house with animal-related knickknacks; father Eugene (Scott Wilson) is almost catatonically silent and usually found at his woodworking bench. George's brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie) is mustached and sullen, living at home and working in the packing department of a china replacement shop. And then there's Johnny's wife, Ashley (Amy Adams, in a truly remarkable performance)-motor-mouthed, chipper Southern drawl with pasted-on smile to match, and oh so pregnant.

A sinking feeling sets in as these early scenes play out, the movie almost certainly headed in one of two far too familiar directions. We're convinced that Junebug (rated R for sexual content and language) will either be an opportunity for Northern sophisticates to patronize country bumpkins or, just as likely, have their harsh, materialistic veneer cracked by these genuine, down-home folks. Either way, we're yawningly prepared to watch yet another movie filled with types rather than people.

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Then something surprising-almost extraordinary-happens. In initially subtle ways, we begin to realize that these are multilayered, multidimensional characters who bear some resemblance to people we know.

Madeline and George knew little about each other before visiting George's family, and have much to learn. George, for instance, comes from a strong but complicated religious background, something long dormant (and completely unknown to Madeline) but briefly reignited at a church potluck. The church basement supper is one of the film's most astonishing scenes, uncynical and without agenda, one of many ways in which Junebug carefully refuses to take sides in the cultural divide.

The film contains some significant bad language and sexual situations, including some really, really crude paintings-unpleasant at times, but, with a few brief exceptions, little of it exploitative. Definitely not a film for all tastes or sensibilities, but still quite an achievement.


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