Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
In the last five years the media has made the notion of the “red state-blue state” idea as if it were something new or previously unexplored. It is part of having a diverse population spread out over a large land mass that the parentheses of America (the more “liberal” east and west coasts) would not feel the same way as the rest of the God-fearing, hard-working majority of the country; apparently we are only supposed to notice this when we vote for president.
It’s pretty evident that this is the point that Phil Morrison wants to make with his latest opus Junebug. Junebug follows a newlywed couple, George (Alessandro Nivola) and Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), as they visit George’s family in North Carolina. Madeleine is an art gallery director pursuing a client who happens to live near her in-laws. George has been estranged from his family for nearly three years, but all seems to be forgotten as they arrive to spend some time with George’s family. George’s family is a bit different: his brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) is a high school dropout who works in a manual labor position at a factory, studying for his GED and living with his parents. His wife and high school sweetheart Ashley (Amy Adams) lives with them and is very pregnant. They are a middle-class Southern family who are deeply religious and into their world comes their son and his English-accented wife to change the balance in the household.
And it becomes quickly apparent that the man Madeleine married and the man he is at home are two very different people. Madeleine is the daughter of a diplomat, a child of privilege who has lived all over the globe. To his parents and her new sister-in-law she is quite the catch, as she is well-educated and seems other worldly to them. For her it’s a unique transition as she strives to seal the deal with the artist while getting to know her in-laws. And as a whole Junebug is a good movie that aspires to greatness and falls just short due to the uneven time devoted to the cast.
Amy Adams stands out most in the cast as Johnny’s pregnant wife Ashley. Ashley is star struck by her glamorous sister-in-law, as she’s equal parts envious of everything about her. Madeleine seems to be everything she wants out of life; Ashley has been in the same town, clinging to a relationship that she has been over for longer than she can admit to Johnny.
Her pregnancy is a last ditch effort to keep him around, and there’s real despair in her eyes as she talks about how in love they used to be. There’s a real pain in her eyes ash she tries to be everything she thinks Johnny wants from her and sees Madeleine as equal parts competition and emulation. Madeleine is all the things she thinks she wants to be, and yet Madeleine is not the sort of person she could be. Davidtz makes us dislike Madeleine in spite of how much we want to like her.
Madeleine is a well-educated successful woman who, it seems, has it all. And she is charming enough, but Madeleine is missing something inside that Ashley and the rest of the family can’t see. She chafes around the family and their activities, culminating in one major moment showing where her true priorities lie.
The problem is that the rest of the cast isn’t given nearly as much time as the Davidtz and Adams. We are given glimpses and less development about them than our two main female leads and it is a shame as with a bit more development from them this is a great movie. George and Madeleine are married, we know that, but there seems to be little reason beyond the inherent physical attraction why they are together. There is animosity between the two brothers, but it isn’t developed as fully as it could be. There seems to be about 20-30 minutes worth of plot taken out that could only have helped what is already a good movie turn that corner into greatness.