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US Indie Junebug Steals Hearts

There is an honest, almost wholesome feeling to Junebug. The long, still shots of carefully clipped lawns, and clean silent bedrooms look as though they are taken from someone’s childhood photo ...

There is an honest, almost wholesome feeling to Junebug. The long, still shots of carefully clipped lawns, and clean silent bedrooms look as though they are taken from someone’s childhood photo album - a sweet, simple evocation of a time long since passed.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the film was shot in the North Carolina hometown of director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan, or that the two men have known each other all their lives. And as both writer and director come from southern roots, it also makes sense that Junebug is so even-handed in its treatment of American small town mentalities. In tone, the film is neither condescending nor righteous, although Morrison says that he was not overtly conscious of this aspect while making the film.

“This was not about avoiding condescension or stereotypes,” he says. “I think that’s a fool’s errand— we end up asserting our own illusions about what isn’t a stereotype. It’s best to be honest about what our attitudes are… I used these scenes to question those attitudes.”

Chicago newlyweds George (Alessandro Nivola) and Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) travel to North Carolina to see an Outsider Artist— a possible addition to Madeleine’s gallery. While there, they visit George’s family, who for the most part are cautious and reserved on meeting their newest family member. The clear exception is George’s sister-in-law Ashley (Amy Grant) who welcomes Madeleine with open arms. Grant’s superb and exuberant performance here won her the Best Actress award when the film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Although it is a small-budget feature, and was shot in less than a month, Junebug is not marked by its quick turn around, nor its low production costs. What stands out most clearly are the uniformly strong performances by the cast, and the gentle way in that the film unfolds. 

“The film was shot in twenty days. I had to ask the cast to trust me if they wanted extra takes, because we had to get the film done. In some ways we had to have faith, accept we didn’t have full conscious control of the film. We had to let it be what it was,” says Morrison. “My job was to encourage that, and to throw ideas out there that might seem non-sequitur, but that just felt right.”

Bittersweet and subtly nuanced, Junebug is a fine example of what independent American cinema has to offer.


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