Elephants in the mist

Family, career, values, connectedness... Is there anything new about Junebug? No, not really. Does it matter? That's subjective, but if the only good thing in movies is novelty, then there must be very few worth watching.

A Chicago gallery owner (Embeth Davidtz) travels to the south with her husband to pursuade a peculiar artist to allow her to show his paintings - as well as to meet her husband's family for the first time. At first glance, they are very much a stereotype of small-town southern white dysfunction. The mother is overbearing, the father emotionally absent, the brother withdrawn except for when his anger comes to the surface, and his pregnant wife, Ashley, who runs her mouth inanely to cover up the fact that she's miserable.

The script comes so many times to the brink of predictability only to coyly move on, that I have to believe the writer is playing with us somehow. Whether a mere trick or skillful writing, it perfectly sets up the emotional spaces of the film - sparse tension-filled moments that would threaten to erupt into melodrama - and probably the bad variety - if the characters didn't know any better.

Of particular note is the performance of Amy Adams as Ashley. Clearly she was directed beyond the stereotype that formed the basis of the character, but she brings a nuance to the role which illuminates a real intelligence that is largely trapped by circumstance.

The thing about Junebug is that it does what it sets out to do very well. All the elements are already familiar enough to everyone, but that doesn't mean those ideas have been used up.

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