Wednesday, August 31, 2005

junebug

Watched Phil Morrison's Junebug last week. As my roommate referred to it after I recommended it, "Oh, that South thing movie?"

It's an eloquent household here folks. We hold competitions. The awkwardly worded loser takes out the smelly garbage.

Anyhow, yes it's about the south in that it's set in North Carolina (filmed in Winston-Salem). I'm sorta glad that the film was a small gem in my movie tiara. Oh, you know you want a tiara too, even you boyz. Even though I could hardly call going to college in Durham, NC getting the whole or real sense of that state, or the South for that matter, like some, I have that peculiar sort of pride in those places you bestow the title of home. And Junebug is basically about home – and the inertia, rivalry, hopes, gaps found in families. It's a very quiet film, done with such fine acting of complex, dimensional characters and understated humor, treating the old, tired American North-South (sigh, yes, blue-red) opposition with subtlety that I really do hope it gets a wider release than it seems to have now.

The story: Madeleine is trying to get an outsider artist from rural North Carolina to sign up for her gallery in Chicago. George, her husband, happens to have grown up near by so they decide to take the trip and Madeleine will meet George's family for the first time, since they got married right-hot-quick, faster than cracked out bunnies. Madeleine is urban, sophisticated, tall, thin, smart – if she had been cattier and didn't have a British accent, she would've fit right in with the sex and the city girls. And so, the play begins when she meets the in-laws and co.
The whole outsider art aspect works in a broader sense as well, which is kind of neat. Neat as in neat-o! I like! and Neat, a bit purposeful, doilies straight, coffee-table dusted, which isn't necessarily a fault. Not only is Madeleine an outsider into this family, every character is an outsider, alone in some sense. It's seldom that these family members get through to each other or to the heart of matters, while they very obviously love each other. And that is what is so heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. You wonder whether this family will crumble from the cracks after the film finishes, or will keep on, keep on, in spite of everything - that thin line where a lot of families teeter.
So this isn't just a movie about the South Thing! These people in North Carolina are real people, kinda like us and our own. Gah, it sounds so simplistic that way, but Morrison succeeds so well in not creating caricatures as well as not beating us over the head with a barbequed pork chop that we.are.just.like.them! Mmmm mesquite! We are and we aren't. They each have good and bad characteristics, are not entirely likable, and one can't really identify with a single person all the way through the piece. It almost doesn't matter Where ths movie is taking place. Complexity, what a lightbulb of an approach! So basically I took two paragraphs to say that the characters and relationships are believable and consistent, shown through third-person multiple views.
Amy Adams is SO great in the role of Ashley that you can't help your heart from breaking open from your rib cage and rushing out to her. She is the pregnant wife of Johnny, George's younger, sullen brother w/pent-up anger/frustration/issues, and she is open, wise, excitable, wild as a child in demeanor, and the only one to welcome Madeleine, treating her like a diva with open admiration, bombarding her with questions and doing her nails cinnamon fizz. She too has her faults and how much puppy energy can one handle at once? But still, Ashley is so naturally kind and sincere and bright, not a shred of dour irony about her, and that all sounds so ridiculously unreal and gag gag, but look, there's my heart, still running on it's ventricley legs out to her, with not a glance back at dour sour me.
Ashley possesses a faith and practices the kind of Christian love that I imagine is our greatest capacity as humans no matter what the religion is called, a characteristic of belief to be taken not at all as any sort of weakness or stupidity. Ashley holds that family together. I liked this treatment of religion here, not extreme, or overblown, or tongue stuck out at, as in that rather hilarious (to me) scene in I Heart Huckabees at the dinnertable with the Sudanese guy and his adopted family.
I could see how some people would think this movie was boring but boo on them. It's slowish, though with a good pace and minimalistic sound (and orig. soundtrack by yo la tengo!). There are shots of empty rooms of the house which seem to be waiting for something and landscapes, giving us a sense of place. There is a good couple minutes of the dad setting up the air mattress. All you can hear is the air hissing and the air mattress sort of coming alive, and it's all mildly humorous. Because, really, air mattresses are kind of funny when you think about them. There were several laugh out loud moments and they usually involved Ashley. And there was this one scene which still makes me giggle. Madeleine has told her mother-in-law, Peg, the name of the kooky outsider artist, David Wark. Except it comes out sort of like "Walk" due to the British accent. Peg sort of looks at her questioningly and repeats, rolling "Waawwolk?" around. Well there I go again making funny things unfunny.
The underdevelopment of George's character, namely, is frustrating and so is the played up eccentricity of Wark. Picking small bones. They're the remnants of my ribcage.
At one point, Ashley tells Johnny after one of his angry episodes: "God loves you just the way you are, but too much to let you stay that way." The audience at the Angelika sort of burst out in gentle laughter; I thought it was the most poignant thing out of the whole movie. What a struggle we have a-foot here; we are who we are, but we hope to change for the better.
Trailer and Official Site
Interview with Phil Morrison on WNYC.

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