It says something about the state of the movie industry that a well received film with a host of international awards including an Oscar nomination didn't even make it to my local multiplex and was so far under the radar that the first I heard of it was when it was being offered for review.
Set in North Carolina where Madeline and her husband George travel from Chicago to his hometown as she is desperate to capture the signature of an 'outsider' artist whose work she wants to display in her gallery in Chicago. Since he left home George has expressed no desire to return and only calls in on his family because of Madeline's business interests in the area and it would be extremely rude not to see them.
George's father Eugene Johnsten, an extremely reserved individual, inflates a blow up mattress in the nursery for them, with the room prepared as George's sister Ashley is 9 months pregnant and ready to drop. An extremely upbeat, naïve and childlike woman, Ashley is excited even before the visitors from Illinois arrive, speculating on just how pretty and successful Madeline may be and, when they do arrive, she almost adopts her sister-in-law as the big sister she never had. George's brother Johnny hates him for his good looks, success and escape from the south - Johnny lives with his parents and is studying for his GED as he never graduated from High School.
The arrival of Madeline and George sees the difficult and fragile dynamics amongst the members of the Johnsten household strained almost to breaking point as hidden resentments and tensions come to the surface.
Written by Angus MacLachlan and directed by Phil Morrison, both North Carolina natives, this is a strong and acutely observed family drama with startling performances from the stellar cast. With Embeth Davidtz as Madeline, perhaps best known for playing Helen Hirsch in Schindler's List, and Amy Adams as Ashley, the young female actors are extremely strong and with the reassuring presence of Scott Wilson who played Dick Hickcock in In Cold Blood (1967) and Celia Weston, another vastly experienced screen actor, there is quality throughout the cast.
MacLachland and Morrison set this in their home town and are extremely careful with the depiction of the God-fearing southern folk - in other hands it may seem patronising and clichéd but there is something charming and endearing about the Johnstens with Ashley almost like a young child whose wide-eyed innocence is yet to be tainted by the cynicism that comes with growing up and experiencing the world for what it is.
Junebug takes you through the full range of emotions and, when you get to the end, you want to watch it again. It's deliberately paced and beautifully observed and I loved it.
First on the menu is a commentary with Embeth Davidtz and Amy Adams; normally I hate actors' commentaries as they degenerate into a love-in with nothing constructive to say about the film, but this is an exception to the rule. Davidtz is an intelligent and well-spoken woman and, with Adams, give valuable insight into making the film. The addition of either the writer or director (or both) would have undoubtedly improved things but, as it is, this is a good listen.
Under the heading Making Of are five individual featurettes which only run at 3-5 minutes each and don't really add much. There are also ten deleted/extended scenes which are worth a look, particularly the full scenes that were chopped down for the final cut. There are two lots of audition footage, one of Amy Adams and the other with Benjamin McKenzie which are quite lengthy and show how little they changed from audition to filming - the sign of quality actors.
There's a Q&A with Amy Adams in London, following a screening in 2006. It's strange that there aren't many people there, but she answers their questions fully and the moderator does her job well.
Finally there is a gallery of Ann Wood's art - the artist who inspired the artist in the film and whose work was used.
The set comes with a booklet which is an extensive interview with Phil Morrison and Angus MacLachlan.
This is shot by someone with a real visual eye and sense of detail and aesthetics. The HD picture is fantastically sharp, with excellent colours and black levels - I was amazed to find that it was shot on Super-16 as it looks like the source material was of much higher quality.
*The pictures contained in this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect the image quality of the disc.*
Of the three soundtracks, the DD Stereo is the clearest but you do lose the atmospherics and the terrific score by Yo La Tengo isn't as noticeable. Of the 2 HD tracks, the DTS-HD MA is by far the better as the dialogue is clear and easy to make out; in the Dolby TrueHD it is a little muddy and you can't always make out what people are saying. Oddly for a BD, there are no subtitles.
Junebug is a great little movie that deserves much more exposure than it previously had. It's an acting masterclass and a thoroughly involving story with characters that you initially dislike but end up caring about. If you like family dramas and independent films, then you should definitely check this out.