Director: Phil Morrison, 2005.
Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. It's like that in Junebug, a film that contrasts two cultures, big city and small town. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeleine, a Chicago art-gallery owner who meets George (Alessandro Nivola), a North Carolina native, at an art auction and marries him within a week. When she hears of an unknown southern artist in North Carolina near George's home, they take a road-trip to try to sign him to a deal. At the same time, they plan to stay at George's parents so she can meet her new family.
When she meets his family, it is clear they are dysfunctional. Mom Peg (Celia Weston) rules the roost, while Dad Eugene (Scott Wilson) is taciturn and disappears into his shop to his woodworking hobby. Meanwhile younger brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie) has withdrawn inside himself avoiding the imminent fatherhood he faces with his young wife Ashley (Amy Adams). This is a family that is dealing with unspoken pain. But they are dealing with it alone, apart from one another.
Ashley is the vocal one in the family, gushing forth whatever springs to her lips. Pregnant and ready to pop, she is so lonely you can feel it. And she compensates with verbal commentary, trying way too hard to be friends with everyone, especially Johnny, whose silence is her Berlin wall. When Madeleine arrives, she fawns all over her, treating her like a queen from a distant land.
Madeleine represents all that is good and bad about big cities. Fast-paced, always seeking new and novel, she is thin and beautiful, focused on her career, her art gallery. She marries George without really knowing him, merely appreciating the passion she feels with him. Ashley, on the other hand, represents small-town communities. She is focused on her baby, nick-named Junebug though its sex is unknown, and on her family. She has known Johnny much of her life, being his high-school sweetheart, but that knowledge has not equated itself to ongoing passion. She knows the people in her community, mostly friends from high school and wants no more than to be happy with this.
Like Lars and the Real Girl, church plays an important role in this small town. Here there is community, casseroles and acapella singing. The pastor knows his little flock by name, even remembering George and his singing talents. This is so much like village churches. Anyone that is been a member of such a church can recall dear old Betty's famous casserole, the one to be avoided at all costs! And the tie-wearing, hymn-singing services, where the music does not change across centuries. But at least in this church there is family and acceptance.
Junebug is the film that pushed Amy Adams into stardom. With her supporting role as Ashley, the red-headed Adams gave a sterling performance and received an Oscar nomination. She captures the neediness in the soul of this woman, hoping that the child she bears will rekindle the affections she once received from her immature husband. She cries out at one point, "All I really want is for Johnny to love me like he did in high school." How often has a pregnant woman hoped beyond hope that her child will reunite her with her man.
When Ashley goes into labor, George is away from the house. The family of four refuse to take Madeleine with them to the hospital, instead leaving her standing alone on the front lawn to wait for her husband. And then she has a choice to make: to go with George to the hospital or to go to the artist's home to salvage her deal. Family or career?
At the end, it is a family tragedy that reunites George's family. Whereas earlier, they were living like isolated individuals merely sharing the same house, they are forced to reexamine themselves.
The opening scene is of a collection of trees in a forest, and this same scene is repeated toward the end. In between, there are numerous cinematic shots of trees, all different, all alone. It's as if the director is telling us that if we look at the trees we will not see the forest, but each tree is separate and different. When the family members finally pull back, forced to by the circumstances of life, they can once more see that they form a forest, a family.
Junebug reminds us that we are all members of one or more families. We were born into a family. We may have moved on away from our parents and created our own family, with a spouse and even children. Within each there are a web of relationships that pull us in different directions. We may look at each family member and see a different person, but they are still our flesh-and-blood. We belong together and should pull together to help each other.
Further, if we are following Jesus, we are a member of the broader family, the family of God known as the church. As a member of the church, we are related to the other members as brothers and sisters, just as Junebug pictures in the church scenes. We have been given different gifts to use within the church to make it function effectively and completely. We need to recognize this and use these gifts appropriately.
Let's not wait for tragedy to strike before we embrace the members of our families!
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs