It was writer/director Kevin Smith who pretty much nailed what’s so great about the indie hit Junebug. “It’s a really wonderfully drawn, quiet portrait of small town life and manners,” he wrote when summing up his films of 2005, under the header “The One That Reminded Me of Why I Got Into Film in the First Place” Amazingly then, this small, acclaimed, and Oscar-nominated indie film is only now making it onto disc in the UK for the first time (I never realised it hadn’t been released before, as I’d imported it from America back when it was originally released). And if you’ve missed the film before, it offers an ideal chance to catch up.
Junebug is the story of Embeth Davidtz’s big city gallery owner, who’s just got married and is about to meet her new family, in the company of her strangely unenthusiastic husband. Their visit is a by-product of checking out an artist in the local area, and the scene is seemingly set for another battle of city folk against small town America.
But Junebug isn’t really that film. For Davidtz’s new in-laws are a group of people with simmering undercurrents of their own, which are gradually explored as the film progresses. Don’t worry though: no spoilers here. This one’s a fun movie to discover for yourself.
Instead, it’s hard not to focus on the wonderful character of Ashley, her husband’s sister, who is nine months pregnant and fit to burst. Ashley is played by Amy Adams, in her major breakthrough role that has since led to the likes of Enchanted. And she’s outstanding here. A joyously positive creation, her upbeat nature refuses to be diluted by the circumstances around her, and it throws something refreshing into what could be an ordinary boiling pot of family politics.
There are a couple of conventions obeyed in Junebug, though, and a perfect dish it isn’t. But its qualities are many. Superbly acted, it’s a slow, diligent film, working off a rich screenplay from Angus MacLachlan, and director Phil Morrison sidesteps many of the pitfalls of the genre. You might sense familiarity with some parts of it, but there’s a quiet confidence to Junebug that helps lift it – along with the excellent performances – to something really quite special.
The Extras A really good, chatty commentary between Embeth Davidtz and Amy Adams kicks this off. It’s engaging, because the pair constantly question one another, and Davidtz in particular offers a real insight into the insecurities and decisions of her craft. The pair are terrific company, and, while there’s plenty of gushing in the direction of the writer and director, there’s more than enough substance to overlook that.
There’s also a lengthy Q&A with Amy Adams filmed in London back in 2006, and this too offers more depth than you may ordinarily expect. She clearly looks back on the film with affection, and while the number of empty chairs when the camera turns round to face the audience is odd, Adams has plenty to say. There’s a bit of a judder-y feel to the camerawork here, but it’s a small complaint.
The other features are hardly filler, either. You get five featurettes under one menu, but they barely cover 15 minutes in length. I enjoyed Adams again taking us behind the scenes in particular, and wished that one could have played for longer. You get some added scenes as well on the disc, as well as some intriguing casting sessions footage (Adams, incidentally, got the script the day before filming started, we learn). Rounded off by a gallery of Ann Wood art, this is a strong extras package.
As for the technicals, the picture here is generally very good, and actually worthy of a Blu-ray upgrade, even if the film isn’t the most obvious choice for one you’d want in high definition. The audio? It’s certainly solid, and the surround sound stage is effective, but there’s no workout of note here.
Still, it’s hard not be grateful that a film that can rightly be regarded as a gem of American independent cinema has finally, finally made its way to UK shop shelves. With a DVD release available too, it’s very much worth catching up on.
The Film:The Disc: