Australian film production has gone into an upswing in the Covid-19 era. International productions have travelled here because shooting in this country was more viable than those in serious lockdown. There has also been more funding for Australian films overall and some of these have been better attended by local audiences than usual, because they were not competing with the tent pole pictures of Hollywood. Or to put it another way, there are more new Australian films streaming online and at the cinema than for many years, so why not check them out?
JUNE AGAIN is a current Australian film about June (Noni Hazlehurst), a woman in her late 60s who is in an aged care facility because she has advanced dementia. She hasn’t recognized her daughter or any other family member in years and she spends her days largely unaware of time passing and only partially connected with the present. Then one day, June wakes and is suddenly mentally back to her old self of more than five years previously. She remembers the past and can identify her loved ones.
The medical staff at the home check her out and find that she has regained all of her former mental sharpness. They want her to stay and get checked out further. June wants to go back home. She sets off and as hours past she is hit by the facts – she has spent the past few years mentally absent, and in that time, her family has changed in ways she could never have predicted.
June eventually meets up with her adult children, her son Devon (Stephen Curry) and daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) and this generates much emotion as old business is churned up between the three of them. This is the point of the story. Family members hurt, disappoint and betray each other. What if you had the chance to express yourself to a parent whom you thought was gone forever? What would you say and what reaction would you be looking for?
This is the deep water that writer-director JJ Winlove is diving into for his feature film debut. The range of disorders that affect our brain, particularly as we get older, is a subject that is discussed increasingly these days in countries like ours with an ageing population. Recent movies like STILL ALICE (2014), THE FATHER (2020) and SUPANOVA (2020) come to grips with what happens when a person loses their memories and overall identity and how their family deals with the emotional devastation this loss causes.
JUNE AGAIN approaches this subject from an angle that surprisingly little is known about. Over many years it has been observed that a small number of people who suffer from major mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may suddenly become able to think and remember with their former clarity. This effect can last minutes or hours. This episode immediately precedes their death. It sounds like something a movie would invent, but it is real. There is evidence for this going back for more than two-hundred years, but because of the tiny percentage of people who experience this, it has been a rarely studied phenomenon that has only recently gained the name Terminal Lucidity.
The film takes this idea and runs with it. At one point it becomes a road movie with June, Devon and Ginny travelling into the countryside as promised by the official poster. Nonetheless, Winlove finds plenty of moments for this story to go through its paces. June, it turns out, was an A-type business person and not necessarily an A+ parent. She devoted her life to a company that successfully created artisanal wallpaper for over forty years. She had high standards in that business and pushed for the same from her children in their education and career choices. Their responses to that kind of expectation have weighed upon them in their adult lives. Now June is back to her former self, she knows the clock is ticking and she wants to use her remaining time to fix the lives of her family.
Winlove is certainly not making a documentary about Terminal Lucidity. The portrayal of it here is story-convenient and a mixture of Aussie indie-movie looseness with a light sprinkling of magic realism. It’s best not to question the medical side of anything you see. The director is using the opportunity to explore the area where parents and children will always clash. Some people will think June is something of a pushy parent, others will see her as a loving mother still trying to do the best for her wayward adult children.
Noni Hazlehurst as June has the best movie role she has had in years. She is good as she returns to being June “again” but she is heart-breaking in scenes where she has lost her mental clarity. Claudia Karvan is solid as the put-upon Ginny. Stephen Curry is excellent as the ne’er-do-well brother.
JUNE AGAIN rambles around somewhat in the middle, however it is a good dramedy that takes the audience through some of the damage and wounds that can exist in a family. It’s good to see a top cast explore an area where many of us have been and many of us will go.
Duration: 1hour and 39 minutes. Rating: 7/10