When I first heard about this movie I was disinclined to see it because I thought it would be yet another sad meditation on dementia and associated love and loss. Too scary for someone my age. But when a regular movie companion said she was keen I vaguely remembered seeing a positive review so off I went.
And I’m glad I did. This is one of the best Australian movies I’ve seen for years.
June (Noni Hazlehurst) is in a nursing-home obviously suffering – or ‘living with’, as we say these days – dementia. This is established in a series of brief scenes in which we see various people come and go from her room: her children, her grandchildren, an attentive nurse, a nice old handyman fixing something in her bay window. (The family has obviously found her the kind of place we would all wish for in our dotage.)
She’s at the stage where she can’t quite remember who they all are, her short-term memory is shot and she can’t name common objects shown to her by the staff doctor monitoring her decline.
Then one morning she wakes up to find herself back in her old healthy frame of mind. She demands to go home. The doctor is summoned, she is tested again, she performs like someone with all their marbles. In a nicely-played scene that provides handy background about what is to come, she is shown a family group snapshot and is able to name them all and describe their marital and occupational status. As of five years ago, that is.
The doctor warns her that this remission – from vascular dementia following a stroke – won’t last. I don’t know how true-to-life this medical situation is but I’m not even going to google it because its purpose is to set things up for the domestic complications that follow.
June absconds from the nursing-home before the staff or the family can decide what to do about her. She heads straight for her old home only to find it occupied by strangers: the family has sold it! That’s not the only change. Her son Devon (Stephen Curry) has divorced the daughter-in-law she loved, and hasn’t finished his architecture degree. Daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) has handed over the management of the family wallpaper business to spivvy David (Darren Gilshenan), her beloved teenage grandson Piers walks with a mysterious limp and worst of all, Ginny and her husband Kyle (Nash Edgerton) are not on speaking terms with Devon for reasons none of them is keen to explain to her.
June is impatient to set things straight in her family while she can and goes about doing so with typical imperiousness and insensitivity. The sudden irruption of her control-freakery into the lives of her children brings about many hootingly funny scenes as she tries to get Devon back with his ex, reconcile the siblings and take back the reins of the business. (The audience at our screening was so appreciative that my companion remarked afterwards that it was like having a laugh track on the movie.)
I suppose you would call it a comedy with a serious side. Is that a dramedy? Whatever the genre, it’s very original, very moving and very funny. There are no villains of the piece, just normal believable people with normal human frailties and foibles.
The fault lines of class and snobbery in contemporary Australian urban life are delightfully observed: food, home furnishings, occupation, names. (Devon’s in no hurry to introduce his mother to his new squeeze – a sweet suburbanite by the name of Sharelle.) The scenes with the kids and technology are spot-on and drew much identifying laughter.
June Again is the feature film debut of young New Zealander JJ Winlove, who wrote and directed it. He’s made some short films but otherwise is so new to the game that a Google search doesn’t turn up a lot of biographical information. I’m presuming he’s young on the strength of a photo alone! June Again is a beautifully plotted and deeply humane story and I’ll be watching out for more of JJ’s work.