First-time feature director Phil Morrison's sharp, sly and sneakily funny film is chock-full of the same clichés that riddle hundreds of coarse, frenetic comedies about crazy-as-a-bedbug Southerners and snooty Yankees. But Morrison and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan put an unusual spin on the old chestnuts, playing them straight — well, almost straight — and letting the subtle, knotty humanity shine through the surface tics and traits. Following a whirlwind romance, Chicago gallery-owner Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a British diplomat's daughter who spent her childhood hopscotching between Japan and Africa, marries North Carolina-native George (Alessandro Nivola), who fled his small hometown for the big city and hasn't been back in dog's years. Madeleine's specialty is outsider art, and she's wooing an as-yet undiscovered recluse whose Henry Darger-esque paintings of Civil War battles seethe with psychosexual lunacy and bizarre religious fervor. As fate would have it, eccentric David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor) lives not far from George's parents, so they combine business and meeting the family into one trip. Both missions are equally littered with minefields. Wark, Madeleine quickly learns, has also been approached by a Manhattan gallery, and his sister (Joanne Pankow), unworldly country lawyer though she may be, is still sharp enough to know that Chicago is hicksville next to New York. George's relatives weren't even invited to the wedding and are nursing a tangle of conflicting emotions about the prodigal and his angular, big-city bride. Matriarch Peg (Celia Weston) greets her new daughter-in-law with superficial cordiality that gives off an unmistakable chill (exacerbated by Madeleine's persistent misremembering of her name as "Pat"); George's sullen, underachieving brother, Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie, of TV's The O.C.), back at home with his hugely pregnant wife, bright-eyed chatterbox Ashley (Amy Adams), is a black hole of resentment, while his quietly befuddled father (Scott Wilson) drifts through the background of his own life like a ghost. Only Ashley welcomes Madeleine unconditionally, and her reception carries more than a touch of desperation. Madeleine in turn alienates everyone else with her kiss-kiss mannerisms and cosmopolitan condescension, which are so ingrained she doesn't even realize how smug and patronizing she's being. Morrison brings an amazingly sure hand to MacLachlan's prickly screenplay, and pulls off a breathtakingly subtle shift of tone about halfway through: Everyone suddenly seems to have taken things down a notch, just as real-life first impressions often give way to more nuanced — and often kinder — assessments. It's an elegant ploy that embodies this movie's slippery charms.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: First-time feature director Phil Morrison's sharp, sly and sneakily funny film is chock-full of the same clichés that riddle hundreds of coarse, frenetic comedies about crazy-as-a-bedbug Southerners and snooty Yankees. But Morrison and screenwriter Angus M… (more)