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Looking Homeward

Director Phil Morrison’s Junebug unfolds amid an impromptu family reunion: Prodigal son George (Alessandro Nivola) has returned to his North Carolina home following a lengthy absence­ — so long, in fact, that he’s gotten married in the interim to Chicago art dealer Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), who accompanies him on the journey. It’s a premise that makes the film sound like yet another in an endless line of formula pictures about big-city folk descending upon the sticks. But in Junebug, the bonds of family and community flow (like almost everything else about the film) from a deep respect for the people and culture of the South, and a hard-gotten understanding of the perils of going home again. No character risks cliché. Each is as intricately detailed as a woodcut: the doting mother (Celia Weston) subtly betrayed by her son’s departure; the younger brother (Benjamin McKenzie) as terrified of fatherhood as he is enraged by his lack of ambition; and the very pregnant sister-in-law, Ashley (Amy Adams), whose wide, bulging eyes are such beacons of optimism and joy — even in the throes of labor pains — that we yearn to see the world though them. Ensemble casts like this are not easy to come by. Adams is something more than that — a brilliant young comedian bursting into bloom.

To read Ella Taylor's interview with Junebug's Amy Adams, click here.

Morrison likes to cite the Japanese master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu as an influence, and you can feel his guiding hand throughout this remarkable debut feature. It’s there in the loving, patient way Morrison films people, objects and landscapes, and the way his camera lingers over empty rooms at the beginning and end of scenes, as though he might catch an errant bit of conversation between the drapes and an armchair. And that gentle, measured style is precisely matched by the rhythms of playwright Angus MacLachlan’s script. Like Morrison, he hails from North Carolina himself, and his writing is dense and viscous as molasses and lazy as a summer afternoon. Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor would be proud. A more potent antidote to The Dukes of Hazzard can hardly be imagined.

JUNEBUG | Directed by PHIL MORRISON | Written by ANGUS MacLACHLAN | Produced by MINDY GOLDBERG and MIKE S. RYAN | Released by Sony Pictures Classics | At Laemmle Sunset 5, Laemmle Monica 4-Plex, Laemmle Town Center 5 and Laemmle Playhouse 7