Movie Scribbles: Junebug

Anne and I watched the DVD of "Junebug" on Saturday. This is a barely noticed indie flick from 2005 that earned a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Amy Adams, and it's absolutely fascinating in the way it confounds the conventions of character development.

The beginning is confusing, as two people meet, almost wordlessly, in an urbane setting. It then shifts to rural North Carolina, and--swear to God--these two main characters go 75 minutes before they have what I would call a conversation. The whole movie could easily be marketed as an indie, quirky southern American movie. But it isn't. It is indie. It is quirky. And it is Southern. But it somehow manages to feed and destroy every stereotype of those three things along the way.

We have the inert, detached father who spends his time woodworking in the basement, but he's more than that. We have the worldly Brit who could easily judge the Southern family and find it "quaint," but she doesn't. We have the good brother and the bad brother, but their dynamic doesn't fall easily into the Prodigal Son archetype. The character who seems dumb and oblivious turns out to have the richest emotional range. The artist who's compassionate on the subject of slavery turns out to be a rabid Jew-hater.

I think the movie itself is about duality. Family lies at the center, but no one really knows who anyone is. In other words, it's a movie that dares to find everybody complex. If "Syriana" made a point that the economic and political dynamics of world petroleum production are so complex as to be incomprehensible, "Junebug" is saying that the same truth holds for the inner workings of every individual.

For screenwriters, especially dramatic screenwriters, the movie is worth the time for one particular scene... an exchange between two people in a hospital that is one of the most realistic and brilliant I've ever seen. It must have looked strange on the page to have the conversation move from death to peanuts and back again, but such is life.

One final note... I think the part of the movie that really made me smile was a series of shots of empty rooms. I remember my MFA profs talking about the brilliance of Virginia Woolf bringing inanimate objects to life in "To the Lighthouse." These scenes reminded me of that, as well as John Huston's beautiful shots of empty, wintry Irish landscapes over the final voiceover of "The Dead."


I think I agree with everything you've said about JUNEBUG. It's that rarest of pictures--challenging, but in a good way.

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