February 10, 2006


So, I finally Netflixed Junebug (I just decided that “Netflixed” can be a verb), a film whose preview I saw a few months ago at Kimball’s, the coolest downtown artsy theater in Colorado because it serves up pints from the local brewery a few streets over, fresh Colorado goodness in a plastic cup.

That’s totally beside the point, but if you are ever in town and looking for a good ale, now you know.

Anyways. I really liked Junebug. As wholeheartedly as I support the concept, independent/artsy films are sometimes a mixed bag. You’ll go, dole out your bucks, and get something like Dancer in the Dark or Broken Flowers, both of which I distinctly did not like. But sometimes you get a quirky little gem like Junebug. It was a small film, nothing earth-shattering, but simple in its fleshed-out portrayals of interesting characters, and affecting in quiet ways.

One of the things I found most moving about the movie was actually the silences. Several times during the film the directors just showed a silent, ordinary room in the suburban house (where most of the movie takes place) for several long seconds. They’re not afraid to have a prolonged, silent view of the everyday ephemera, almost as if the house was waiting for the next scene, waiting for someone to come in and end the awkward silence. I loved it as an effect. The quiet rooms in the house were almost aching to be heard, the silence was deafening – which paralleled so many of the characters in the film; almost everyone seemed to have so much more to say than what they actually said.

Junebug also offers some superb acting performances. Amy Adams was a gem in this film, playing a pregnant and oft-ignored very young housewife, bright and overly-talkative, masking a consuming and desperate need to be heard and loved. She deserves the Oscar nomination she received for bringing depth to a character that could have just been played as a shallow and comic/tragic ditz.

Alessandro Nivola (love the way that name rolls off your tongue) is steadfast and kind in his role of older brother/husband/rescuer/good guy. He is kind of the glue that holds everyone together when he returns home to North Carolina from the Big City (Chicago) with his new wife. He convincingly shows the different layers to growing up and leaving your roots, but also keeping them as part of you. I was also surprised by his clear singing voice and the good job he did performing a hymn for the role at a church social.

It also features Benjamin McKenzie, best known for his sullen and brooding role as Ryan on The O.C. (so I’ve heard. I’ve never watched the show. Not even that one time). This role is not that much of a departure for him in terms of angst, but he rednecks-it up so that it took me about 20 minutes to recognize him. He convincingly plays a guy drowning inside, not sure how to reach out and be heard and understood by those who are supposed to be closest to him.

Little things in this movie spoke volumes for me. Amy Adams’ character loves meerkats (favorite animal, darkly comic moment as she explains this). She is married in the movie to Johnny (McKenzie). Watching his panicked and frustrated attempts to tape something for her that suddently comes on the TV about meerkats was surprisingly poignant. He doesn’t know how else to show her how he feels, he certainly doesn’t tell her. Also, the passionate sex between Nivola and his new wife on the air mattress while the rest of the house sleeps on the other side of very thin walls was also affecting in incising just how unhappy the others were. It is a bit hard to explain in writing, because these are such small and insignificant things, but it is masterful, quiet, and evocative on the screen.

The movie features an original score by Yo La Tengo, which I enjoyed, and revives a light-hearted ’70s pop song for its opening and closing credits. If you’ve seen the movie (or even if you haven’t), you might enjoy hearing this again:

Harmour Love” – Syreeta

It would be good for a mixtape to listen to while you are practicing your backwards roller-skating at the roller rink. Sweatbands and legwarmers are, as always, completely optional.

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  • Thank you so much for this — the review and the song!

    Anonymous — February 16, 2006 @ 1:36 am

  • Hi! Just Netflixed this movie in an attempt to catch up with Oscar nominees before tonight’s show. I’m still a bit behind but glad I caught this one. Amy Adams is marvelous and I’d love to see her win. And thanks for the mp3 of the Syreeta song! I had to hear it again and a Google search brought your blog up.

    But I wanted to mention that I had a different take on Alessandro Nivola’s character. It seemed to me that he was disconnected from his family. He spends very little time with them and pretty much abandons his wife for long periods of time, letting her deal with their insanity.

    His big scene with Amy Adams is incredibly moving and makes him appear to be caring for a few minutes, but he uses it against his wife in an odd way, making her feel guilty for not being there but at the same time not making an attempt to get her to the hospital. And he doesn’t stay for the funeral services of his stillborn nephew, even though he promised his sister-in-law he would. When he and his wife are driving home he says to her something along the lines of, “Glad we’re gone from them.” Not the words and actions of someone who cares a great deal about his family.

    Anyhow, I was surprised to see him described as rescuer & good guy in your review and felt I should provide another look at him. Thanks again for the mp3! I’m looking forward to perusing the rest of your blog.


    Anonymous — March 5, 2006 @ 10:19 am

  • Hey Justin,
    I wish you left an email addy so I could respond to your thoughtful comment. Maybe I was just fooled by Alessandro Nivola’s character. I think maybe compared to everyone else, he was steadfast. He did make people feel better, even if he didn’t do much. That was what I responding to. He wasn’t perfect, but I think his heart was good, even if he was detached from his wife. Good point – he did kind of abandon her, huh? But his role within the family unit was definitely the glue, I think, the golden son that everyone looked up to. Even in his failings, he made people feel better by being around.

    heather — March 5, 2006 @ 1:51 pm

  • Thanks so much for posting the song! I just finished watching Junebug, which I really liked. I agree with your review. It was such a fun quirky movie, with great performances, especially that of Amy Adams.

    After watching the movie, I was searching and searching for the song. I tried iTunes, but you could only get it if you downloaded the complete Stevie Wonder for $199! Yeesh.

    Anyway, thanks for the song!

    Christielli — March 10, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

  • any way you could post the song or link to it once more?

    Anonymous — March 11, 2006 @ 10:47 pm

  • I’m here to thank you for linking to the song, too! It’s hard to find, and such a happy song!! I just saw the movie last night and really loved it. Good review!

    Erin — April 1, 2006 @ 5:45 pm

  • Just want to also add a big thank you for the song! And for your comments. I just saw the film (its only just opened in cinemas here in Scotland). I largely agree with you, especially about the silences. I to find Alessandro Nivola’s character somewhat enigmatic, but I guess thats life – there are opposite and contradictory facets to us all, and I feel thats part of what maid these feel like real people, rather than stock film characters.

    My partner, however, unfortunately truly hated the film for some reason.

    Graham — April 19, 2006 @ 6:27 pm

  • Great blog!! can you please post the song again or the link to it, thanks.

    Anonymous — April 13, 2007 @ 7:28 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
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