I have to admit that I almost didn't watch Junebug. It was one of my online rentals that I couldn't remember selecting and it sort of just stuck around for a while. When I select movies on zip.ca, I do so for a myriad of complex and quirky reasons which seem plausible at the time of selection. When they actually come in the mail however, I often can't recall the movie or why I ever selected it in the first place. And, like my movie friend Todd, I don't really like to preview a movie too much. All of that to say, it was sitting on my entertainment center for like forever and I had no idea what it was about...that was strike one. Strike two was that it sounded like a kids movie or something. But strike three was that I saw it playing on my satellite movie channel (not only the kiss of death, but why am I renting a movie I can see for free???...get it??...okay, I'm Scottish). But, for some reason, I think I was up late and was in the mood for a movie, I decided to give it a chance...and here's the payoff pitch...I was soooo glad I did.
We live in a idealistic world where we have come to believe that true intimacy feels good and that the litmus test of whether we have found a good mate or a good friend is when the connection between us is so seamless that we never have to work at staying closely connected. I love it when filmmakers buck this trend and show us something more authentic and substantial. Junebug is another in a line of recent films trying to show that real life contentment and intimacy means finding a meaningful connection with the quirky, bumpy, uneven people in our lives, often our families. The basic premise is this: average southern kid goes to Chicago and marries an art gallery owner who has lived around the world (they come from very different backgrounds...get it?). She needs to travel near his home town to meet an undiscovered and quirky civil war artist and so the newlywed couple decide to make a family trip out of it and literally "meet the parents"...but unlike Ben Stiller's experience, this "meeting" will not be filled with poignant and clever hi jinx, but rather with a real family challenged with the task of opening itself up to an outsider. And from the point of meeting, director Phil Morrison allows the characters to collide with each other in messy and subtly painful ways.
Indeed Junebug is full of collisions: of values, world views, mores, gender, personalities - and these collisions often lead to some of the best understated tensions I have seen in a movie for a long time. Everyone in this movie has a unique perspective and "way" about them and from the start these differences begin to exasperate and delight in the same conversation. And yet Morrison skillfully invites his characters to "hang in there" and stay connected. Nothing is candy coated and we see these real and flawed people work through, tolerate and to be challenged and...to stay connected. One of the best scenes is when the new sister and brother in law try to have a conversation about Huck Finn...she having studied it in University and he trying complete a book report on it for his GED assignment.
The performances from this cast of "character actors" are very good the movie leaves us with a genuine sense of satisfaction. And though I think Junebug is asking us to rethink our idealistic perspectives on the nature of intimacy and relationships, in the end this movie is making a strong statement about the importance of family as the background adhesive that truly holds our lives together...that although quirky and often frustrating, it is through our family connections that we maintain a sense of self and continuity.