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Photo: ‘June Again’
There are a few rare occasions when a film’s protagonist is nearing the end of their life but the film’s focus is not about their death. Instead, it’s about the life they have lived, all they have created, and what their presence means to those around them. An excellent example of this is ‘June Again’, a joyful, emotional, and deeply sympathetic look at a matriarch suffering from a debilitating disease.
Limited Time To Set Things Right
For the last five years, June has been residing in a memory care facility in a home. In the aftermath of a series of strokes, she now suffers from dementia and has a hard time remembering common words, her family, and where she is. There are glimpses of her old self, like her routine attempt to escape, but she is different. One day though, everything changes.
When she wakes up in the morning with complete lucidity she doesn’t understand where she is or why. She is not the same woman shown in the opening scenes. She is sharp around the edges; bold and brash, strikingly witty and quick on her feet. When the nurse finds a completed crossword puzzle just a day after June couldn’t remember the word for ‘pen’, she is amazed. June snaps back, “What? Did I get one wrong?”
June again proves her clarity to the doctor who is in shock as she goes through a family photograph taken several years earlier. Gushing with pride, she points out her two children, their respective partners, and children. The doctor warns her that this experience is limited though, and any number of triggers could make her memory go away.
June ignores the doctor’s cautions and successfully escapes, searching for her old life but not finding it where she expects. She is reunited with her daughter Ginny, who informs her that she and her brother Devon haven’t spoken in several years. Devon has also gotten a divorce and is not the architect she was raving about, but rather working at a photocopy shop. The family wallpaper business is failing as Ginny succumbs to a man hired by her husband. There is a lot that has changed in the time June can’t quite recall. All the while June is having frequent memories of a lost love. She is in search of the dresser he built for her decades ago, one that was sold when she was put into a home.
Before her memory fails her, June must put back together her family, save the business, and hopefully reunite with this mysterious handyman. It’s a race against the clock, knowing inevitably June will become disoriented again, but she has a drive and ambition to make things right before that happens.
Australians Have The Best Accents
The indie dramedy was released in 2021 in Australia and was released in theaters across the United States on January 7th. It is also available for purchase on a variety of streaming sites like Google Play, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime.
‘June Again’ was written and directed by JJ Winlove and stars Noni Hazlehurst as the titular character. Hazlehurst is truly dazzling in the role with emotions fluidly told through gaze and body language. Ginny is played by Claudia Karavan and Devon is played by Stephen Curry.
In a dreary Chicago winter, I can say watching this feel-good family film set in a beautiful Sydney lightened the weight of freezing rain. Plus, it can be argued that Australians have the best accents to listen to, but maybe that’s just a personal opinion.
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Family Dysfunction Makes For Good Movies
There are numerous aspects of the feature that make it a worthwhile watch. For one thing, the actors are all wonderful in their respective roles. They portray a realistic family dealing with hardship, struggle, and overcoming together with sincerity and the help of a miracle.
Family dysfunction gives artists unlimited stories to tell since every family has its own problems. There is no love without frustration, where there are shared memories there can be resentment, and where there is family there is usually fighting. ‘June Again’ excels at portraying the complications of a relationship.
Ginny is thrilled for her mother to be herself again, but at the same time, that means the stubborn, brutally honest, and fiery aspects have returned as well. These personality traits have clearly caused friction between the two in the past and it is only exacerbated by the differences between their goals. Ginny wants to spend time with her mother before her clarity is gone, and June has other plans. The clash between the two, and ultimately finding the middle ground, is utterly endearing.
Devon also has a complicated relationship with his mother. She tells him that he is not living up to his potential and that since she’s been ‘gone’ his life has crumbled. Old grievances and pain haven’t been settled between the two.
The conflict between Ginny and Devon is understandable and feels true to sibling relationships. There are years of mistrust, anger, and unresolved feelings plaguing their relationship that they must overcome in order to be there for their mother. Their dynamic is wonderful, one minute glaring at each other and the next minute equally rolling their eyes at June.
Much of the beauty in the film is the complicated feelings of children taking care of their sick parent while healing from their own trauma. There is clearly a pain in watching their vibrant mother change before their eyes, forgetting who they are or what they mean to her. But there is also a lightness of watching her return to her old self, someone they haven’t seen in a long time. The chemistry between these characters and their past makes the film a delight and painfully sad all at once.
‘June Again’ – A Different Take On Depicting Dementia
Dementia is a debilitating and heartbreaking illness that affects millions of people across the world as well as their families and loved ones. According to the CDC, “Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities.” For June, her dementia was brought on by a massive stroke followed by a series of smaller ones. It affects more than just memory, it can also cause issues with a persons’ attention, communication, judgment, and visual perception.
‘June Again’ beautifully depicts the character’s lapses in memory, showing her jarringly “waking up” somewhere where she was not before. The film plays with temporal displacement through the lens of June’s awareness. Throughout the movie the audience fears her relapse, knowing that it is inevitable as her clarity between time and place begins to dissipate. Hazlehurst beautifully captures the fear of not being in control while maintaining that she is fine for the sake of her mission.
There have been many other films that have taken on the task of examining lives affected by memory loss, such as ‘The Father’, ‘Still Alice’, and ‘The Notebook’. While those stories are beautiful and each has something to say about the painful toll dementia can take, this film does something a little different.
June was never an object of pity. She is the protagonist, a strong-willed, no-bullshit kind of woman who will fight for what she believes in. Her dementia is only a small part of her character; it’s a challenge, not a personality trait. June is sassy and sharp, she has lived a full and exciting life. She still has secrets that not even her children know about, and she still has a passion for life even if she is losing her memory.
What this film does by having the story focus on June is take a debilitating illness and give it some context. She is the driving engine and you are rooting for her to accomplish what she sets out to do. Often elderly people are depicted as weak or confused, but June knows what she wants and knows how to get it. She’s not weak because of her illness, she is strong because of the woman she is in spite of the tragedy that has happened to her. ‘June Again’ surrounds its viewers in the intersection of love, family, and lost memories with Hazlehurst as their empathetic guide.
Director: JJ Winlove
Writer: JJ Winlove
Starring: Noni Hazlehurst, Claudia Karvan, Stephen Curry, Di Adams, Wayne Blair
By Kylie Bolter
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