Junebug (15)

Take my mother-in-law...
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Junebug combines these plots in the story of George (Alessandro Nivola), a North Carolina native who lives in Chicago with his new wife, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz). She's an English diplomat's daughter who owns an "outsider art" gallery, so she seems to belong in a different galaxy from the church-going country folk her husband hasn't seen in three years. But she has to go to North Carolina to woo a prospective client who lives near George's childhood home, and so, on Madeleine's instigation, they call in on his wary mother, his silent father, his resentful younger brother and his heavily pregnant sister-in-law, the only member of the family who's looking forward to seeing him.

As you'd expect, old wounds are reopened and old values are rediscovered, but in its muted, unorthodox way, Junebug is more true and more poignant - and more funny - than any of the films mentioned above. One distinction is that George himself is sidelined: more screen time goes to his wife and his sister-in-law, Ashley. Madeleine is the embodiment of metropolitan sophistication - short-haired, dressed in black, thin - but she isn't a monster. A part of her may see George's family as just another work of untutored outsider art, but she always acts kindly. Ashley, meanwhile, is a character in a million.

She's a supernova of childish enthusiasm, but there's something sad about the voracious way she attaches herself to the visitors. "Do you diet?" she asks, within micro- seconds of meeting Madeleine. "My favourite animal's the meerkat!" The sparkling Amy Adams was Oscar-nominated for keeping a potentially ridiculous character human, but Ashley is typical of a script in which everyone has more to them than first appears. There are no grand revelations or confrontations in Junebug, though. It's more about small misunderstandings and secrets, and issues which aren't quite resolved.

If any of the characters are changed by George's visit, none is ready to admit it.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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