There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The symbolism isn’t subtle in Junebug, Phil Morrison’s full-length directorial debut about the culture shock that can ensue when folks on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line meet. Written by first-time feature scripter Angus MacLachlan, Junebug tells the story of Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a worldly Chicago gallery owner who (metaphor alert!) specializes in outsider art, and, on a trip to North Carolina to solicit a local artist, visits her new in-laws with her husband of six months, George (Laurel Canyon’s Alessandro Nivola). George hasn’t seen his family in years and has pretty much abandoned his small-town roots. And though the warm, affectionate, but very urbane Madeleine is thrilled to meet her new kin—abrasive matriarch Peg (Celia Weston), quiet dad Eugene (Scott Wilson), angry kid brother Johnny (The O.C.’s Benjamin McKenzie), and Johnny’s young, pregnant wife, Ashley (Amy Adams)—her sophistication and impetuous marriage to George make them immediately suspicious of her. (“She’s too pretty and she’s too smart,” Peg surreptitiously tells her husband. “That’s a deadly combination.”) Both Morrison and MacLachlan are North Carolina natives, and it’s arguable whether their portrayal of rural Southerners is stereotypical or dead-on: George’s relatives are deeply religious, staunchly simple-livin’ folk, accustomed to working with their hands and putting family ahead of everything. Despite fine acting all around—Adams is especially fascinating as sunny, curious chatterbox Ashley—MacLachlan’s characters have some faults, most notably Johnny’s unexplained fury and the eventually conflicting portrayals of George and Madeleine’s attitudes toward his family, which vacillate too extremely between dismissive and loving to feel realistic. But Morrison’s quiet film is affecting nonetheless: The Southerners’ icy reception of Madeleine is palpable, as is the attraction between the newlyweds and Ashley’s heartbreaking optimism about her baby and unspoken hope that the child will bring some happiness to her joyless marriage. Ultimately, Junebug’s small, honest moments of human connection and all the love and sadness it can bring outweigh its flaws—just like those of the family it portrays. —Tricia Olszewski