Junebug Review

Film festival friendly awkward family reunion films are almost an industry in of themselves on the independent circuit in America these days, so much that you’d be forgiven for thinking every family in America has brooding issues that manifest themselves in obscure irrational traits. Junebug is relatively unknown director Phil Morrison’s entry into this popular subgenre, and it’s not a bad effort at all. The story revolves around Chicago art dealer Madeleine, who has recently married George Johnsten and finds herself travelling down to his hometown in North Carolina to sign up a unique local artist. Taking the opportunity to introduce Madeleine to George’s close-knit family, the couple decide to spend a few days living with The Johnstens where Madeleine’s multi-cultural sensibilities clash gently with conservative mother Peg, laconic father Eugene, grumpy brother Johnny and his effervescent and heavily pregnant wife Ashley.

Junebug was a little labour of love for Morrison and scriptwriter Angus MacLachlan who are both from the town it is set, so there’s a tremendous sense of respect and authenticity pervading through Junebug, even if it is rife with small-town clichés. Morrison makes quite the impression as director and seems to have a gift for character introductions, and the film is edited to perfection by Joe Klotz. The dynamics of the Johnsten family are quite understated, but worthwhile and most importantly they feel like a real family, but Amy Adams really dominates as bubbly girl-child Ashley, brightening up every scene she’s in. It’s a star-making performance if ever there was one. The impression the rather outgoing and at times insincere and overtly sexual Madeleine makes on this conservative family is quite fascinating, particularly the relationships she forms with Ashley and step-mother Peg, but Junebug’s big weakness is the lack of characterisation for George. I get that he’s cut from the same cloth as his reserved father, but a lot of the internal sadness of the Johnstens stem from the huge impression George makes on their lives (Peg misses him in her life terribly and Johnny cannot stand living in his shadow). George is such a non-entity that it’s hard to believe he could be revered (and hated in Johnny’s case) in such a way. Still, Junebug has a lot of heart, doesn’t over-intellectualise its subjects, and is totally free of condescension. It’s also genuinely funny, and at times moving.

The Disc: Junebug was shot on 16mm film so it inevitably has an image that is a little on the soft side and has a reasonably prominent layer of grain throughout every scene. Still, this 1080p 1.78:1 transfer does look pretty pleasing, Junebug’s colour scheme is pretty muted but it has a reasonably broad palette that is nicely expressed on this disc, with no bleed or noise. Brightness and contrast levels are very naturalistic, Junebug seems mostly lit with natural light so the image can be a little dark in places and the contrast is pretty low, giving the image a filmlike appearance. This transfer may not have the deepest blacks out there but the shadow detail is excellent. The print used is pristine and the image is free from any distracting signs of DNR or Edge Enhancements, my one major criticism are the noticeable banding issues, particularly in dark scenes where you can see horizontal bands quite clearly.

Unfortunately the audio options aren’t quite so solid, there’s a 24-bit DTS-HD track and a redundant 16-bit DolbyTrue HD, along with a DD2.0 track that presumably, given Junebug’s low budget, is the film’s original audio track. I don’t know if it’s a problem that stems from how the audio was recorded, but the 5.1 HD tracks are heavily muffled and have soft bass and lousy high frequency response, which does affect the sound dynamics and makes dialogue a little difficult to follow in a couple of scenes. The DD2.0 track has stronger bass, but also has issues. Eureka have transferred over all the extras from their R2UK DVD release, which was a pretty solid selection of featurettes and a decent commentary with Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz. Highlights of the featurettes are the short Behind the Scenes features that have specific subject and have real focus, and a lengthy post-screening audience Q+A session with Amy Adams.

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