Total recall, of a different kind. Imagine waking up one day, ready to take on the world, only to realise that you’ve spent the last five years trapped inside a nursing home and – in fact – inside your own mind. That’s what happens to June Wilton (Noni Hazlehurst) in June Again, an Aussie dramatic comedy that marks the feature debut from writer/director JJ Winlove.
We meet June in her most vulnerable state, stuck inside a facility where nothing is familiar, and like a goldfish in a very small bowl, she moves from room to room with little more than a few moments of memory. When she wakes up one morning in what is described as a lucid state, as though no time has passed since the she suffered the stroke that put her there, she walks out the door and into a taxi. To her dismay, she finds her family estranged and her former business in ruins, and knowing that she has only days before relapsing, she snaps into action, determined to make everything right again.
This is quite a beautiful movie – one that, despite dealing with sad topics, is quite upbeat. Dementia is such a cruel and horrible illness and is often the subject of depressing films, and where titles like The Father, Amour or The Relic present a confronting reality, June Again takes a different tact. Winlove isn’t interested in wallowing in sombreness, instead choosing to explore the optimistic theme of precious time. And by using June’s awakening as the story’s nucleus, Winlove provides himself ample opportunity for humour.
Noni Hazlehurst is a national treasure of Australian film & television with a career that’s approaching fifty-years, and it comes as no surprise that she hands over an effortless turn as June. Whether she’s presenting her character in the depths of her dementia, or with absolute clarity and awareness, or in that space between, there is no question that it’s an all-absorbing performance in all facets. In fact, the most fascinating moments are those when June is caught between the two states of being, where so much is said within the slightest expressions.
That’s not to say that her co-stars, Claudia Karvan and Stephen Curry aren’t also excellent, because they are. They play June’s estranged adult children, whose lives fell apart and took different directions shortly after she was hospitalised. Karvan gives an especially strong performance, which is not unexpected, but revealing, nonetheless. Where Hazlehurst spends the majority of the story in her lucid state, Karvan constantly negotiates a cascade of emotions. There’s fear and precariousness in everything she does, and while she’s overjoyed by her mother’s return, she’s also terrified of the inevitable relapse. It’s a wonderfully measured turn which – in my mind – is the heart of the film.
Curry ushers his character through his own personal evolution which, as revealed, bares more context than we’re led to believe. His story alone gives June Again its gravitas and with the addition of a fantastically heartwarming subplot (which I refuse to reveal), he keeps everything grounded, preventing the sentimentality from becoming mawkish.
If I were to make one criticism it would be the film’s sense of urgency. The story moves along at a rapid pace, from one encounter to another. And while I can appreciate that time is of the essence for June, I would have liked to have spent more time with her as she comes to terms with her place in the world.
One of the film’s most touching developments towards the end might have been all the more affecting had the lead up been measured a little more. But, again, I’m nitpicking. Regardless, June Again is a crowd pleaser. It is deep without being depressing, and it is funny without being silly. It is well written, well directed and well acted. And while it probably won’t win many awards – if any – it will certainly win the hearts of most who see it.