'Junebug' could be said in many ways to encapsulate the age-old saying "the family that prays together stays together." Deep religion seeming to be the only plausible reason why a group of people who make each other so miserable would continue to cling together. The people portrayed here are very different beings to their public images, their angry exteriors barely a front for their conflicting feelings of entrapment and belonging. 'Junebug' is all about small towns, big ideas and the ties of the heart. It's about personal stories - that just can't remain personal when family is involved.

George (Nivola) left his small town roots behind many years ago but there's nothing like a trip home to bring you back to the reality of your place in the world. Suave, intellectual and moving in the right circles, he is married to gallery owner Madeleine (Davidtz), but there's a whole other side to her husband that she knows nothing about.

So on a trip from Chicago to North Carolina, to convince a set-in-his-ways artist (Hoyt Taylor) to entrust his work to her care, the sophisticated Madeleine suggests that she and George pay a visit to his hometown to meet the parents.

At home in their small Southern town - where everyone knows everyone else's business - we meet Mama Peg (Weston), father Eugene (Wilson) and their lazy, unmotivated son Johnny (McKenzie), who refuses to grow up, move out of the family home or take responsibility for his heavily pregnant girlfriend Ashley (Adams).

Here Madeleine is force-fed a lesson in family values, as her eyes are opened to a bible-bashing community who worship her husband. By now, he is no longer the person she married, having seemingly changed overnight into a wholesome hymn-singer. Over the days that follow she sees him become the rock that everyone depends on, unintentionally overshadowing his brother and pushing some home truths her way in the process.

Amy Adams more than proves that sometimes Hollywood gets it right when it comes to Oscar nominations. Capturing naivety, innocence and raw charm, she takes on the role of Ashley with a great sense of duty to her character. She is wide-eyed, impressionable and always utterly convincing as she comes out with lines like: "God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way." Ben McKenzie, of 'The OC' fame, plays Johnny with a casual charm that really gets inside the pitiful character.

'Junebug' is very much a 'Meet the Parents'-type of film, but with style. Abandon the brashness (not the comedy) and think instead of darker humour, deep characters and a sad, almost tragic, inevitability to the proceedings. Madeleine will never fit in no matter how hard she tries - nobody wants her to. George must chose between his new life and his old values. And, for those stuck in the circle of life in this small town, life must go on, with each day serving up pretty much the same as the last. The only choice there seems to be whether you to accept your lot or battle against the wheel of fortune.

With a tidy, yet full, script and a no-nonsense attitude towards the direction, 'Junebug' emerges as a clever, painfully true account of family life. The charm is in the detail - the smudged lipstick, the hairbands, the screwdriver and the fuzzy hair. A quaint film that wonderfully encapsulates the power of understatement in a world full of exaggeration.

Linda McGee