Two new arrivals on DVD give a pair of overlooked films a chance to be discovered. Junebug is an understated character piece with extremely well-realized details. Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), the cosmopolitan owner of a Chicago gallery of outsider art, and her husband of six months, George (Alessandro Nivola), journey to North Carolina, where she hopes to sign a new discovery. It's also near where George grew up and his family still lives, a family Madeleine hasn't yet met. George's mom (Celia Weston), dad (Scott Wilson), brother (Benjamin McKenzie) and very pregnant sister-in-law (Amy Adams), live in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood where people mow their laws and attend church. Of course there's going to be a clash of cultures, and this same plot set-up could have been turned into quirkiness for quirkiness's sake like Napoleon Dynamite or made into a gross-out would-be comedy from the Farrelly brothers. Thankfully, Junebug is an honest and introspective drama; one that treats all its characters and their world in a respectful and thoughtful way.
The real revelation of Junebug is Adams as the pregnant Ashley. She talks a mile a minute, with responses and enthusiasms that seem better suited to an 11-year-old girl in pigtails. But Ashley is not presented for mockery or easy laughs. Ultimately she is the best drawn of the five major characters, the performance is amazing, endearing and layered, and her work alone makes this one to watch. Hopefully Academy voters noticed it, too.
While outsider art is a subplot of Junebug, a real and mysterious icon of the movement is the subject of the fascinating documentary In the Realms of the Unreal. Henry Darger was a janitor and loner who hardly ever talked to another living soul. But upon his death in 1973, at the age of 81, it was discovered he had been secretly writing a 15,000 (fifteen-thousand!)-page novel with hundreds of painted illustrations in his small room. His two chief works were an autobiography and perhaps the longest novel ever written, a bizarre epic tale of children fighting their slave masters with the help of angels in a series of massive battles in an imaginary land. The film juxtaposes Darger's biography with readings from the novel, sprinkled with brief interviews of those few folks who "knew" him. It's a truly sad, odd and interesting stranger-than-fiction story. And as his landlady says, if nothing else it's proof of what one can accomplish without the distractions of friends, family or television.