Not Your Normal Small Town: Junebug

Small townie meets big townie, blah blah blah. But alas! This is not the case with director Phil Morrison’s film, Junebug. This tale brings together the beatific union between Chicago city slicker, gallery-owner, Madeline (Embeth Davidtz), and North Carolina native, George (Alessandro Nivola) at an auction dealing with “outsider art.” With stunning dialogical brevity these two characters are shown making eyes at one another, whispering incredulously at their instant mutual affection. The next scene follows with a mini-montage of their successful courtship. Then a fast-forward six months later to the amorous couple taking a trip to North Carolina for Madeline to investigate an artist she wants at her gallery. Conveniently, this journey allows them both to visit George’s rural hometown. The camera takes us into George’s house before Madeline enters and we find the family scene an uncomfortable contrast to the young couple. Mom and son sharing cigarettes while Dad is upstairs dazed, filling the air mattress for his guests to sleep in. And then comes the stunning close-up of their pregnant daughter-in-law, Ashley. Freckled and anxious, thrilled with the prospect of city-folk stepping into their home, Ashley brings life to the deadness surrounding her with a childlike ignorance. Here we realize that the son, Johnny is about to become a father, unwillingly, out of love with his young bride. The painfully obvious friction between all of these co-habituating characters continues throughout the rest of the film, keeping audiences unsettled and anxious. The story does not take us too far from the simple wood-paneled home of George’s family except for a night out for some church bingo, or when Madeline goes to the home of Eugene, the unconventional, mentally handicapped artist she is trying to strike a deal with. This insistence on filming solely within the confines of the home-space allows the tension, familiarity, and conflict between all six characters to bubble over when Ashley’s water breaks. The family’s trek to the hospital keeps the continuity of the unorganized awkwardness that is the family dynamic. On top of that, we see George and Madeline’s first hardship as a married couple and the pressure it puts on their heretofore-fairytale marriage. In the end, Morrison manages to alleviate the audience’s nervousness with reconciliation between all the characters. A replete ending, void of cliche or hurried closure, this film is beautiful in its clarity and in its reverence for un-compromised honesty.