“June Again,” a new dramedy starring Australian acting legend Noni Hazlehurst, is a heartfelt story that reverses the plot of the 1990 drama “Awakenings.” That movie focused on the work of Dr. Malcolm Sayer, played by Robin Williams, a neurologist who discovers a way to awaken catatonic patients who survived the 1917–1928 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.
“June Again” is a different spin, but highlights some of the same questions. The new film focusses on the patient. June (Hazlehurst), is a sixty-something woman with vascular dementia brought on by a stroke. Like the people in “Awakenings,” she suddenly regains her memory after a years-long lapse, and finds herself in a much different world than the one she left behind.
Her doctor tells her that “dementia isn’t a disease that just goes away. This lucidity you are experiencing will be temporary. A Few hours if we’re lucky.” They want her to stay put in the dementia ward, but she has other ideas. She escapes, flags a cab and returns to her old life, or whatever is left of it. For June, it’s as if the last five years never happened, but life has moved on.
Her high end, handcrafted wallpaper store, is in shambles, her son Devon (Stephen Curry) dropped out of school and got divorced, daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) lets her husband and kids walk all over her and grandson Piers (Otis Dhanji) has been badly injured in an accident. “Is there anything that hasn’t fallen apart in this family?” June asks. “I think I came back just in time.” With the clock ticking and an unsure future, June begins a new lease on life.
“June Again” finds the balance between drama and humour in its examination of June’s rebirth. The question of her dementia is treated respectfully, but not with kid gloves. June is a gritty character, who toggles between lucidity and confusion, but Hazlehurst embodies her. She creates a vivid portrait of the person June once was and the woman she is now. It is a feisty but sensitive performance with edge and heart.
There is a lot going on in “June Again.” A mother and daughter subplot dominates the film’s middle, while family dynamics and June’s fragile grip on current events keep the story moving forward. There are moments of emotional manipulation but the strong cast, particularly Hazlehurst and Karvan, defy stereotypes and subvert the movie’s more predictable twists.