Guess Who, Monster-In-Law, The Family Stone... thank heavens Phil Morrison's promising debut isn't another Meet The Parents knock-off. True, Junebug's set-up - city slicker meets the hicks from the sticks - is the stuff of a thousand culture-clash clichés. But this deadpan dramedy consciously avoids the usual pratfalls, platitudes and pet-related howlers. Morrison's approach is observational, nuanced and attentive to detail rather than punchlines. He calls it "contemplative". "Slow" might be your verdict, given how the plot ambles along to a rocking-chair rhythm. Letting the place set the pace, Morrison (a North Carolinan himself) steeps his study of Southern mores in affection rather than condescension.
Yet as gently gratifying as the film's slice-of-life subtleties are, you can't help wishing the script (by first-timer Angus MacLachlan) dug a bit deeper. The characters' histories are left irksomely under-explored - especially in the case of near-mute prodigal son Nivola. A lot goes unsaid here and Nivola does most of the unsaying.
Mind you, there is one person whose cakehole never closes. All eyes will be on Amy Adams, the little-known who emerged as this year's leftfield Oscar nominee. Easy to see why she scooped the nod, though: her wide-eyed, motor-mouthed performance as Madeleine's pregnant sister-in-law, Ashley, is the soul of the picture. Not long after her waters break, so too does an emotional dam that supplies Junebug's most tear-tugging scene.
But this isn't a one-woman show, with Embeth Davidtz finding depth in a potentially shallow role and Benjamin McKenzie (Adams' pent-up partner) making an assured leap from The OC to the big screen. And then there's folk artist Frank Hoyt Taylor, who's worth his own movie. Even if his hayseed mannerisms seem familiar, we guarantee you've never seen the Civil War the way he paints it: "I love all the dog heads and computers," gushes Davidtz. "And scrotums..."