A review of “Junebug” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for sexual content and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

 

 

Southern living feels indescribably delicious in this languorous ode to small-town dysfunction.

Native son George Johnston (Alessandro Nivola) is coming home to his roots, a small North Carolina town where time seems to have stood still. Along for the ride is new bride Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a British-born art dealer who has taken a shine to the work of a local painter.

The Johnstons are atwitter with the impending visit that traverses a broad range of expectation. Bitter younger brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie) dreads the appearance of the over-achieving prodigal son while his relentlessly guileless and very pregnant wife Ashley (Amy Adams) practically swoons with eager anticipation.

Dad Eugene (Scott Wilson) takes it all in stride while mom Peg (the ever excellent grande dame Celia Weston) bristles at the thought of a sophisticated outsider garnering the attention of her successful son. Madeleine does her best to fit in but seems to rub everyone but Ashley the wrong way. 

Blood may be thicker than water but you wouldn’t know it from the hornet’s nest of emotion that rages inside the Johnston household. From fat to frying pan theirs is a robust stew of history, tradition, sensitivity and misinterpretation.

The Johnston’s mercurial hostility juxtaposed against Ashley’s naive exuberance lends an unexpected poignancy that is painfully becoming. First time-feature director Phil Morrison (along with screenwriter Angus MacLachlan) has a bead on the rural south, perfectly capturing the simplicity so deeply rooted in that culture.

The balancing act threatens to teeter in spots but “Junebug” offers an essence of goodness, lacking the pretty-boy pretensions of so many critical darlings. That’s a very good thing indeed.