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Family matters Quiet indie film explores chemistry of recent marriage

Quiet, introspective indies don't come much quieter or more introspective than "Junebug." It could stand as a prototype for well-charactered thinkers.

It's the story of Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a foreign-born art dealer living in Chicago, and her younger husband, George (Alessandro Nivola). They meet in a gallery, where they quickly became intimate while an artist in another room discusses his work.

They drive to North Carolina to talk an autistic painter into letting Madeleine's gallery mount a show of his art, which can best be described as erotic Civil War battlefield scenes. Since George's family lives nearby, they decide to visit.

Living at the family home are mom Peg (Celia Weston), a prickly woman who is never happy; taciturn father Eugene (Scott Wilson); the very angry younger brother Johnny ("The O.C.'s" Benjamin McKenzie) and his very pregnant, very garrulous wife, Ashley (Amy Adams).

Most everyone is quietly suspicious of Madeleine, who is tall, thin, well-spoken and dressed expensively. Everyone except Ashley, that is. Ashley wants to know everything about her new sister-in-law, peppering her with questions: "Did you go to college?," "How long did you and George know each other before you got married?" and "Do you want me to paint your nails?"

Ashley is lonely; the seething, underachieving Johnny can barely make eye contact with anyone, much less speak civilly. No one else bothers to notice how lonely they are.

Once George and Madeleine arrive, George virtually disappears. Madeleine is left to talk about crafts and woodworking with Peg and Eugene, to attend Ashley's baby shower and to try to help Johnny with a paper for his GED.

Getting to know a spouse is always fraught with surprise, but when the husband in question is from the Bible Belt and stands up at a church supper to sing a hymn, it takes all of Madeleine's concentration not to appear aghast.

Director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus McLachlan have created a Southern version of "Meet the Parents," but with humor that is only unintentional. The differences between the sophisticates and the rural hicks are apparent but not exploited.

"Junebug" is beautifully acted all around, especially by Adams. Her innocent mother-to-be is a mix of wide-eyed youth and resigned, long-suffering wife. She knows her enthusiasm will extinguish eventually, and she'll become Peg.

A family crisis catches Madeleine between her work and her loyalty to her new kin -- kin that seems to both distrust and resent her -- and it puts strain on her fragile, young marriage.

There are no conclusions, pronouncements or resolutions here. And that makes "Junebug" feel a bit like an academic exercise in character development. But the bittersweet tale of family -- the joy of being with family, and the joy of leaving them behind -- resonates.
JUNEBUG

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Allessandro Nivola, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson

DIRECTOR: Phil Morrison

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

RATING: R for sexual content and language

THE LOWDOWN: A Chicago art dealer and her new husband visit his family in North Carolina while she woos a local painter.

e-mail: ebarr@buffnews.com

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