Junebug is a uniquely charming little film in love with moments of silence. A more conventional film with the exact same story probably would have been a lot shorter, but Junebug takes the time between plot points and story beats to pause and marvel at moments of a quiet beauty that surround the characters.
The central story starts with Madeline (Embeth Davidtz), a British woman working in Chicago as an art dealer, marrying George (Alessandro Nivola), an art fancier from a small town in rural North Carolina. His family doesn’t attend the wedding, but when she goes to sign a local artist who lives nearby, they decide to kill two birds with one stone by visiting his family.
This brings Madeline into close contact with the Johnson’s, who have managed to take all the fun out of dysfunctional. George’s mother, Peg (Celia Weston), rules the roost with a condescending iron hand while his father, Eugene (Scott Wilson) has retreated into a shell and his wood shop. George’s brother, Johnny (Ben McKenzie) and his very pregnant wife, Ashley (Amy Adams) appear to be as ready for marriage and parenthood as the Polish Army was for World War II. Johnny is combative and sullenly uncommunicative, spending more time under his car than looking to his wife. Ashley, on the other hand is a sweet-natured, naïve, somewhat simple but eternally optimistic bundle of non-stop conversation. She’s one of these people for whom the filter between brain and mouth has long since been overwhelmed.
There isn’t much in the way of plot to his movie, other than letting the camera observe this family and watch this new outsider gamely try to fit in, as her husband seems to slowly revert to the sullen, introverted ways that seem customary for Johnson men. Apparently, escaping from Peg’s orbit was what saved George from the fate suffered by his father and brother.
The closest thing to a conventional story line comes from Madeline trying to fend off attempts from a rival New York gallery to lure away the artist (Frank Hoyt Taylor), an autistic savant who paints heavily eroticized depictions of Civil War battles.
This is not a film for people who demand well-defined storylines and clear cut resolutions before the credit roles. This film is content to drop the audience in the midst of these fully-realized individuals and let us observe them. It does walk the fine line between occasionally condescending to the characters but never crosses over it.
Amy Adams has received a lot of praise for her performance and it’s all deserved. Ashley dominates every scene she is in, but you never once catch Adams in the act of acting. This wonderfully naturalistic performance is an indelible portrait of a woman who is both lovable and, because we understand her situation much better than she does, somewhat pitiable.