Monday, February 20, 2012

My Favorite Female Movie Characters: June Carter Cash (Walk the Line)

          I accept that I may be cheating a bit here, since June Carter-Cash was a real human being and "Walk the Line" is based on the love between her and her husband, Johnny Cash. However, I feel that Reese Witherspoon was able to make June believable, sympathetic and genuinely likeable, and so was able to build a good character, as well as pay homage to a human being with music in her soul.
        "Walk the Line" is mostly about Johnny and his struggle with drug addiction, his failed first marriage, and his great love, June, who tours with him and a ragtag group of soon-to-be icons, like Jerry Lee Lewis and a young Elvis Presley. While Johnny grew up living a type of hard, back-breaking farm life that today's country singers cannot fathom, June was born into showbiz; her whole family travels the country singing in sold out theaters, and as Elvis tells Johnny backstage one night, "She's been singin' longer'n you and I have been alive. They used to have her a crib at the Rhyman." Since June has grown up before an audience, she has a carefully guarded personality that she hides behind a ditzy, lighthearted stage persona. While the stage June is fun-loving, confident, and goofy, the backstage June is a more sensitive person with some lingering insecurities. She admits to Johnny one evening that, "Let's face it, John. I"m no singer. My sister Anita's the one with the pipes. That's how come I learned to be funny, so I'd have something to offer." June has consistently had to fight her older siblings for the spotlight and as such, feels she has little to offer outside of being silly and entertaining. She has taken this insecurity into two failed marriages, unheard of and quite scandalous at the time, and become the dark mark on the name of the famous Carter family.
      Johnny falls for her almost instantly, and with good reason. Both aspects of her nature are appealing and Reese Witherspoon does a superb job in making this woman relatable and real. She loves Johnny, clearly, but she refuses to accept his drunken, drug-ridden antics. She tells him, in no uncertain terms, that she "refuses to be that little dutch boy with his finger in the dam no more."
     As June's love begins to save Johnny from himself, we notice how strong she is. She has made some mistakes and carries a burden of lifelong fame and unfortunate self criticism, but she is very goodhearted and genuinely kind, making her a flawed but lovable character. Of course, by the end, Johnny proposes to June onstage, after asking many times before, and she finally says yes. While this may seem like a trite Hollywood add-on, this is a true story. Johnny really did propose to June during their famous duet, "Jackson" onstage, and the pair lived together quite happily for thirty five years before June passed away in 2004. Johnny followed her four months after, presumably from pining for her so much. I suppose that is the great message of this film: no matter who you are or what baggage you carry, you can find true love, just like this amazing (and very real) pair.

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