Madeline (Embeth Davidtz), an "outsider" gallery owner in Chicago meets and falls in love with George (Alessandro Nivola, "Jurassic Park III"). A few months after their marriage, she hears about a new "outsider" artist in North Carolina and her scouts tell her that she would probably clinch the deal to show his artwork if she were to come down and meet him. George is from the same area in North Carolina so they incorporate a visit to his family; Peg (Celia Weston) and Eugene (Scott Wilson), his parents and Johnny (Ben McKenzie, TV's "The OC") and Ashley (Amy Adams), his brother and pregnant sister-in-law. George hasn't visited the family in three years and they are eager to meet his new bride. When they arrive, Ashley immediately makes Madeline her best friend.
"Junebug", the premiere feature from director Phil Morrison, is an impressive debut; featuring some outstanding performances and compelling characters. Refreshingly, the film doesn't make fun of the family or Southerners in general.
The real standout in the film is Amy Adams. Ashley is so interested in Madeline, because Madeline is so different from her, that the feeling is almost infectious. We want to get to know everything about Ashley and how she views the world. A non-stop talker, she jumps from topic to topic, about herself, asking questions about others, repeating pearls of wisdom she has picked up along the way. We get a sense that all of this happens because she is pregnant and unable to get out and experience the world. She is the flipside of her husband, Johnny (Ben McKenzie). She accepts her pregnancy and wants the baby; he seems surly and boxed in by his wife and the new baby.
When Madeline and George arrive, the close knit family suddenly begins to warp as the less familiar members of the family are welcomed back. Everyone is a little on edge, a little unsure about how to act around the unfamiliar people. Peg, the mom (Celia Weston) welcomes her older son back. A complicated character, she seems fed up with Johnny and Ashley, yet supportive of their relationship and child. I guess she has to be, because they are living with her. She clearly dotes on her older son, but doesn't quite know what to make of her new daughter-in-law. And her relationship with her husband, Eugene is clearly strained.
"Junebug" is a quiet film, exploring the interactions between these characters and it works best when it sticks to this central group of people. The "outsider artist" whom Madeline is trying to persuade to sell at her gallery in Chicago is just strange. His work is so weird I have a hard time believing that she would be able to find a buyer in Chicago. After you see it, you'll understand what I am talking about. This character presents a roadblock to the proceedings and seems wholly unnecessary. Why wouldn't George and his new wife visit his parents anyway? There seems to be a hint that the outsider artist is the only reason they visit, but this thread isn't developed enough. If George is reluctant to visit his parents, the filmmakers don't provide a clear enough reason.
"Junebug" works best when it centers on the main family. All of the other extraneous distractions merely serve as that; distractions to the viewer.