Artblog goes to the movies: Junebug

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Frank Hoyt Taylor as the artist David Wark and Embeth Davidtz as the dealer,Madeleine.

It isn’t often I see movies with complex characters who challenge my expectations and cause me to rethink my loyalties in the course of the story arc, but Junebug, which has a pretty amazing outsider-art subplot, does just that. At the same time the movie raises issues of social class and culture in complex ways.

We get to meet the outsider artist early in the movie, because his existence is what sets the plot in motion. The plot, which starts pretty slowly, involves Madeleine, an attractive gallery owner (with an English accent to lend an added dollop of class), and George, her handsome new husband, who go to North Carolina to sign up the artist for the gallery, which is in Chicago.

The artist is a half-cracked cracker who paints Civil War battles. The highlight of his work is a painting with a giant, spewing penis that wraps around to the back of the painting because the artist said it was too big to fit on the front–a scene with little soldiers strewn across the battlefield. The shift in scale is hilarious and rather like a magnified inset in a biology book. The art afficionados in the movie of course love this. So do I.

As a sort of self-serving afterthought, the couple stays nearby with George’s family, who hadn’t met Madeleine and clearly hadn’t been invited to the wedding. George has been keeping the family under wraps, a quirky lot with issues and anger and secrets all over the place. Or maybe it’s Madeleine and his new life he’s been keeping under wraps. She has secrets too. Ultimately, everyone has secrets in this movie (oh, don’t we all).

Enter a New York gallery, also wooing the artist. The artist and his family are not so stupid as they may have seemed. They know New York is a better place to be. And they play the two galleries off of one another. Madeleine stoops to a level she’s ashamed of to get her client.

The movie’s conversation about art also covers crafts and raises the questions that need to be raised about what’s worth what to whom. The movie also asks who’s worth what to whom. And it raises questions of integrity. The art crowd don’t win any awards for that one here.

The values divide is wide in this movie. There’s no black and white, and like the characters, the complexities of values and character wash over every scene. The performances by barefoot and pregnant sister-in-law Amy Adams and the rest of those playing George’s family are outstanding.

A rare movie that avoids simplistic answers gets a big thumbs up from Libby.

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