What is home? What is family? In Junebug, screenwriter Angus MacLachlan and director Phil Morrison, look at these questions from their North Carolinian roots.
For Madeleine this is a very different experience from her life. She is somewhat rootless. She was born of British parents in
Entering into the world of George's family is a bit of a shock for her. George seems to be very much of her world, but his family is a typical, working class, Middle American home. They are religious (Southern Baptist to be precise), and George is well known in church for his voice. Madeleine had no idea that George had anything to do with church. Madeleine really has no idea of who George really is. Madeleine quickly finds herself as the outsider.
In the art world, the "outsider" is someone to be fascinated with -- someone out of the ordinary that draws attention because he or she isn't part of the more orthodox art community. That may manifest itself in wonder or condescension. In
The filmmakers do a wonderful job of presenting the family without being condescending. This isn't about a city girl meeting country hicks. This is far more an exploration of a world that many people know, but that isn't very well represented in films. Films are often referred to as a "slice of life," but that slice is often not a center cut. We far more often see the edges of life.
MacLachlan and Morrison give us a taste of typical life. All the characters are believable: the taciturn father, the mother who is in charge of the home, the younger brother who is resentful of all the praise the elder brother gets, the bubbly sister-in-law. It is a family with its share of relational problems, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Even when they show us those of the community who are out of the ordinary, we perceive them as real. The film begins with a hollerer sharing a particularly local form of vocal art. The outsider art that Madeleine is seeking is done by a very odd man, but even then it is not done in such a way as to degrade him.
That Madeleine finds herself such an outsider reflects a bit of the class divide in society and reflected in films. More people live like George's family than life like George and Madeleine. But films show us many more people like George and Madeleine. That becomes a model that we think we should be aiming for. Like George's brother, we may feel left out when we have a typical everyday job and life.
Like many families, this one has its problems, but when crisis comes, they all know their roles and how they fit together. All, that is, except Madeleine. Her rootlessness has made it hard to know how to respond to a family crisis. She is still too busy with her own life to be fully involved with the family.
The end of the film is somewhat problematic. After the crisis, George has found his place in the family once more. It's possible to move on and perhaps even for Madeleine to find her own place in the family. But too soon, the couple leaves to go back to
What seemed like a family affirming film suddenly becomes a negation of the theme that has been developed.... The bonds that we saw in action return too quickly to alienation. It is as if the filmmakers, who have treated this life with respect and perhaps even love as they portrayed these people, want us to know that even though it's their roots, they don't really want to be part of it.
That's too bad, because the people they have shown us are well worth meeting.