In honor and anticipation of the forthcoming release of Enchanted, I'm reposting this in-depth DVD review of Amy Adams' breakthrough flick, Junebug, which I don't believe IGN ever got around to actually running, perhaps because my use of the words meritorious and milieu don't jibe with their editorial mission. At any rate...
That a single revelatory performance is enough to mask narrative familiarities or flaws is a point not open to debate. See last year’s Ray and, more recently, Walk the Line and (most egregiously) Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica if you doubt. Still, Junebug is an interesting case, in that its memorable turn comes within the framework of an ensemble.
The performance of Amy Adams (above), who won a Special Dramatic
Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Festival for her robust, memorable supporting
work, is a prime example of a performance in search of a movie that deserves
its efforts. Scripted by playwright Angus MacLachlan and helmed in a languorous
fashion by commercial and music video director Phil Morrison (a bushy-moustache
ringer for Charles Manson, as the supplemental material reveals), Junebug is the rare movie that achieves
complete authenticity of atypical setting yet still comes across as unrealistic
in almost all of its interactions. It’s a willfully stilted and pandering
cinematic indulgence — original but not meritorious.
Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) is a British-born,
A movie of much meandering indulgence (it is the South,
after all, so everything must move slowly), Junebug
grates far more than it illuminates; it’s an indistinct tone poem that falsely wears
its down-dressed rhythms as profundity. Morrison and editor Joe Klotz cut
between scenes in a completely arbitrary fashion, and the various relationships
run so hot and cold — with George disappearing for a vast stretch of the movie
— that we’re never quite sure why anyone is acting the way they are. That George is the made-good brother who
“escaped” is never in doubt (a beautiful church social scene where he’s
recruited to sing a hymnal confirms this), but there’s a marked difference
between discord or strained familial relationships and the extremely sullen and
uncommunicative ones on display here, wherein each character at least once
pauses, turns around and walks away when directly addressed with a “thank you”
or other words of gratitude. Rarely have I seen a milieu so painstakingly
established at the same time ring so inherently false.
Southern compatriots Morrison and MacLachlan seem to be reaching for ephemeral
grace notes more than overarching clarity, but the mesmerizing performance of
The film’s indie heartthrob status is further elucidated over the course of a nice array of bonus material on this single disc, housed in a regular Amray case.
Junebug’s 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation is superb, with director of photography Peter Donahue’s uncluttered frames achieving crystal clarity. There are no problems with artifact or grain, and while the movie’s overall color palette is relatively subdued, its greys and blues are nicely differentiated. The film’s use of natural lighting is nice, too, as in the scene of Madeleine and George’s initial arrival. Presented in an English Dolby digital 5.0 soundtrack, Junebug’s audio is nicely balanced and for the most part clear and straightforward. Original music by Yo La Tengo is nicely married to the narrative in a fairly non-intrusive manner, but my only complaint is that there’s not a lot done with the audio mix in terms of ambient effects and background noise. While the film visually captures the South, it eschews much aural effort. The aforementioned church scene is an example of where this native silence works quite well, racking focus clearly on the sweet, heart-rending vocals, but for a movie ostensibly about alienation and disconnect, there are many scenes — Johnny sitting in the kitchen when the rest of the family rushes out to meet George and Madeleine, for instance, or a late-act scene between Ashley and George at the hospital — where the audio is just flat.
A billed five-part, behind-the-scenes featurette is actually merely a collection of actor interviews broken down by character. These are interesting, but not necessarily material you will revisit, though it does include outtake footage of Nivola practicing for his hymnal. More intriguing are two casting session tapes, which provide seven minutes of McKenzie and 13 minutes of
A collection of 10 deleted scenes follows. Most are snippets, but there’s one that lends even more credence to Johnny’s swallowed rage. I wouldn’t say it makes McKenzie’s performance markedly better, but it does add a bit more shading, similar to the scene in which he tries to record a TV show about meerkats (Ashley’s favorite animal) and flies off the handle when he cannot set up the VCR in time.
The disc’s piece de
resistance, though, is a joint audio commentary track from Adams and
Davidtz. Recorded together, the two share production anecdotes, recount
Davidtz’s eleventh-hour casting (she’s a friend of Nivola and his wife, Emily
Mortimer) and have fun with pop-up trivia-type tidbits (self-confesses Adams at
one point, “That’s me actually itching a mosquito bite”). Both analytical and
funny (since the film opened opposite The
Dukes of Hazzard, Adams suggests that Ashley’s pregnancy shorts should have
been more prominently featured in the advertising campaign), this offering
dispels the frequently deserved stereotype of boring actor commentary tracks.
Bottom line: Again, Amy Adams is what’s most to love here, though the degree to which she influences the final judgment between bearable treat and interesting failure will depend heartily on your threshold for empty quirk. That Junebug has been hailed by most critics is only further evidence of the growing culture gap in this country, and between those that produce and comment on entertainment and those that live in the interstices of its occasional settings. Again, merely being different doesn’t always equal good, and unfolding in a place rarely visited doesn’t make Junebug wise or bittersweet. C (Movie) B+ (Disc)