Every year, there’s at least one movie that I don’t see in time for the voting, a movie that I hear mixed things about, and then when I finally catch up to it, I fall in love.

Junebug is that film for 2005. Looking at my current list, I’m going to find it a place in the Top 10… probably the Top 5. I loved it.

I’ll be writing about it soon, praising it and urging everyone to rent it and check it out. (It’s rated R for some harsh language and fleeting scenes of sexuality.)

It’s all done with such subtlety and honesty. People who found it to be a cruel caricature of the South must not be from the South. This is a far cry from the tendency toward caricature we see in Alexander Payne or the Coen Brothers. Payne’s films don’t make me feel like he has much affection for his characters (although Sideways was a step in the right direction). And the Coens clearly have affection for their characters, but they also can’t help but exaggerate everything to the point of Looney Toons.

I disagree with the critics who called it a cruel caricature of Southern life, and it’s the farthest thing from cheesy and formulaic. The characters are three-dimensional, believable, and compelling. The portrayal of Southern-style American Christianity is honest and gracious. And I was deeply impressed by the complexity of the relationships. I never lived in the South, but I recognized that church body from my own upbringing in a similar church in Portland, Oregon. I think it’s the most honest and gracious portrayal of American Christians on the screen since The Apostle. My wife was recognizing all kinds of things, from the pregnant silences to the nuances of conversation at baby showers to the throwaway comments loaded with meaning and even judgment. It had a powerfully emotional effect on her, drawing her back into a world that she both loved and reviled.

Amy Adams is brilliant, and I hope she wins the Oscar. In fact, I think it’s the only truly Oscar-worthy performance on the supporting actress list.

But I thought everyone was convincing. Even the eccentric Alessanrdro Nivola, who is sometimes so odd as to be distracted, creates a unique character with a conflicted heart who was fascinating to watch.

The slow pace of the film, the quiet moments in empty spaces… this felt like a real place, a real family, with real problems.

The screenwriters, the director, and the cast all demonstrate remarkable restraint throughout, giving us a lot to think about.

I’m giving it an A. This is this year’s The Station Agent for me. It’s the one that got away. (I’m wishing it was technically a 2006 film, so I could count it as such, like The New World. But alas, I’ve got to treat it retroactively.)

It’s a shame the majority of the Christian press (including me) didn’t pick up on this when it opened. I’m glad Andrew Coffin at World did, and he appreciated it for what it was. But we at Christianity Today Movies really missed the boat on this one, and I’ll have to take some of that responsibility.

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