***½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B
starring Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola
screenplay by Angus MacLachlan
directed by Phil Morrison
by Walter Chaw Charting the vicissitudes of regional attitudes and the mercurial family dynamic, Phil Morrison's Junebug restores some of the lustre to the indie dysfunction genre (and to the Sundance imprint) with a beautifully performed drama about the cost of grace. If critics have a function anymore besides carving their own gravestones on the marble of modern cinema, it's to point a finger at films like Junebug, which sounds like a thousand other pictures but is actually something all its own: a Southern Gothic in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor that treats its characters as more than plot-movers or cardboard caricatures. More, it tackles an issue as delicate as outsider art with a deceptively sharp satirist's scalpel, understanding that the best weapon against paternalism is an affectionate portrayal of people just as mean, petty, and ruined by life as the rest of us. It can't hurt that its cast is uniformly fantastic, that its script, by Angus MacLachlan, is intuitive and smart, and that Morrison understands devalued things like mise-en-scène and visual metaphors, presenting them with a quiet, unobtrusive confidence. Junebug is a character study in every way that "character study" used to be the gold standard instead of an overworked catchphrase used to describe boring, predictable low-budget movies set in the 1970s. It's nasty and it's lovely, it's nuanced and complex.