JUNEBUG (Phil Morrison). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (September 23). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
It begins with a howl and ends with a whimper. The genius of Junebug is in these two extremes. A seemingly simple comic plot - prodigal son George ( Alessandro Nivola ) returns home to his Carolina family with his sophisticated new wife, Madeleine ( Embeth Davidtz ) - catches our attention, then turns into something much richer.
This could easily have been Meet The Parents. The characters appear to be white-trash stereotypes made for easy laughs: George's brooding brother Johnny (The O.C.'s Benjamin McKenzie ) and his pregnant wife, Ashley ( Amy Adams , a revelation), the brothers' silent father ( Scott Wilson ) and small-town mom (go-to actress Celia Weston ). Even George and his art-gallery-owning wife could be caricatures of urbanites, but writer Angus MacLachlan and director Phil Morrison instead play with our preconceptions and startle us with quiet insights.
A scene of always sunny Ashley gushing in her newfound infatuation with Madeleine is contrasted with a jarring shot of a sombre Ashley masturbating to an old photo of Johnny and her at a happier time. Other scenes reveal Johnny's two sides: sullen and snarling at home, relaxed and jovial at work in his fix-it centre.
Adams gives the breakthrough performance, but director Morrison is the real star, putting the function back in indie dysfunctional family films.