An impeccable and eccentric indie for anyone who’s fled small-town life. Going home is often fraught with land mines; here, Alessandro Nivola goes home to his North Carolinan white-trash family, with his new, British art-dealer wife (Embeth Davidtz) in tow. The point of view is hers, however, and the cheap notion that small-town folks are simple doesn’t play here: relationships are complicated and much is left unsaid. Dry and charming, Junebug is lit at its center by Amy Adams, as the huge-hearted pregnant sister-in-law, whose performance netted her an Oscar nomination.
The first true “Dogme 95” movie—which means it was made according to the Danish filmmaker cabal’s rules of production “chastity,” including being shot with handheld cameras, with fidelity to the location, and with natural light, and without unrealistic indulgences like sets, soundtrack music, and postproduction tinkering—Thomas Vinterberg’s Scanda-Gothic The Celebration
seems to have been filmed by a stoned documentary camera crew, and the effect borders on the queasily threatening. When you can make out the characters in the underlit video haze, they’re a riveting crew, a large and wealthy Dutch hotel family attending an annual party for the patriarch’s birthday. Of course, the closets are opened, the vicious family secrets come tumbling out, ghosts are detected, and roles are switched, and it’s all supremely hilarious, appalling, and alarming.
Englishman Mike Leigh’s films, though often comedies, are never optimistic about the amount of emotional damage families can and will inflict on themselves, and this Oscar-nominated mini-epic might be his definitive statement on the matter. A portrait of a decimated British working-class family on its way down the crapper, Secrets & Lies revolves around a well-off portrait photographer (Timothy Spall), and his middle-aged sister Cynthia (the incendiary Brenda Blethyn), the family’s crucible and an aging, dim-witted slut with a grown daughter no one’s sure who fathered (Claire Rushbrook). The dung starts hitting the proverbial fan when a modest, intelligent young black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) discovers through an adoption agency that Cynthia is her birth mother, and contacts her. The characters are genu151 | m ly eun on III ine, and so sharply realized they cut like knives. People in Leigh’s films simply don’t behave like other movie characters—they are, only and completely, themselves, not types or ideas created to serve the story. (Leigh notoriously begins his moviemaking process with the actors and characters, and then develops a script.) You can’t not find them convincing, and you’ll have to admit that your family is at least in better shape than this crew.
Imagine if all your relations were complete eccentrics—and you had to mix them with your beloved’s stuffy clan, like combustible substances meeting over dinner. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s supremely larky play You Can’t Take It with You won a Pulitzer, and Frank Capra’s film won a Best Picture Oscar, but something tells us you had to be there, in the 1930s, to appreciate this stagy, singsong fluff. Still, the cast is rich stuff, beginning with James Stewart and Jean Arthur as the kids in love; Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Ann Miller, Mischa Auer, Dub Taylor, and Samuel S. Hinds fill out the tax-evading, semidelusional, near-anarchist Sycamore tribe.