Thursday, April 13, 2006

JUNEBUG - brilliant but in need of a little more editing

JUNEBUG is for the most part a brilliant film that combines a simple plot with fantastic characterisation. First, the simple plot: George (Alessandro Nivola) is a guy from a small town in America who had a good Christian upbringing. He leaves home and meets Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) - a sophisticated, well-meaning but ambitious art gallery owner. Madeleine has to go to the country to visit an eccentric artist that she wants to sign up and, as its nearby, she and George go home to visit his family. The family are mum and pop - good people, even if mum does slightly mistrust Madeleine's strange, cosmopolitan looks and habits. Then there's kid-brother Jonny (Ben McKenzie of The OC fame) and his pregnant wife Ashley, played by Oscar-nominated Amy Adams. The character of Ashley is an absolute delight! At times she seems so infantile you hardly believe that she could be a mother, but she clearly has great strength of character. To quote her mother-in-law, Peg: "She's a firecracker!"

And that is the strength of this film: all the characters are complex and have a lot of grit. Director Phil Morrison and script-writer Angus MacLachlan never patronise them or caricature them. Unlike THE FAMILY STONE, Madeleine, the out-of-towner, is not a caricature nasty, hard-assed, insensitive city-girl. And unlike BUBBLE, the people in the country are not just simple, naive, credulously pious bumpkins.

Let me say again that these are all great characters, and the script-writer has unearthed rich comic potential in their meetings and misunderstandings.. I don't think I have heard an audience laugh as much since I watched GRIZZLY MAN.
The only flaw I can find with this movie is that when events take a darker turn, the structure becomes rather loose, meandering and in sore need of some good editing down. Despite flashes of brilliance in performance and dialogue and the emotional weight of what was before me, I found myself getting a bit fidgety. Still, even if the final half hour is a little frustrating, JUNEBUG remains a very insightful, funny and powerful movie. It is well worth checking out.

JUNEBUG premiered at Sundance 2005 and has been on release in the US. It opens in the UK tomorrow.

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