February 23rd, 2023
STARRING: CHARLOTTE RAMPLING, MARTON SCOKAS, GEORGE, FERRIER, EDITH POOR
DIRECTED BY: MATTHEW J. SAVILLE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The choices laid out before us in Juniper is to get busy living or get busy dying and the clear decision is both. Writer/director Matthew J. Saville is allowing his characters to live in the moment and reminding us that it is never too late to connect with someone. It is, quite honestly, the kind of story that has been told before, where the elder person connects with the younger grandson; Where people butt heads in the space they inhabit and the young teen can’t be bothered with the ailing problems of an older family member. But even in its predictable narrative, Juniper is a lovely story of people connecting, with the young discovering their purpose, and the old passing on their wise knowledge of what it means to have lived.
George Ferrier stars as Sam, a 17-year old attending boarding school, being loosely parented by his father Robert (Marton Scokas), and struggling after the death of his mother. Before the wounds have even healed, his estranged grandma Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) has broken her leg and will be staying with them, watched over by a nurse (Edith Poor) in the very room his mother passed away in. The start is rocky and when Sam lashes out at school it gets him suspended, leaving him to take care of his bitter and alcoholic grandma on his own. Not exactly what he envisioned his summer or life to be.
As far as wiping away any fears that Juniper would be too conventional, Saville has an excellent safety net in Rampling and her impeccable acting skills. The Oscar-nominated veteran is delivering some of her best work here, never allowing her steel cold eyes to not match her character’s disposition. The chemistry between grandma and grandson is genuinely bitter at first, as Saville’s script captures his characters in their unforced cages, and releases them against one another. Sam wants to play video games. Ruth has a buzzer and uses it liberally to call for her drinks. When a glass is thrown and connects with Sam’s head it becomes a tipping moment, not out of hate, but a point where the two must learn to coexist.
What grows out of Juniper is not just a story of two people learning about themselves but also a beautiful example of what spending time with family can look like. There is laughter and sadness in the text but it’s incredibly sweet to see Rampling and Ferrier connect. He gets drunk with her. She speaks to him about living in a time of war. She tells him to invite over friends for a party. They talk about love, sex, and everything else that rolls in our senses. The outside character of it all is Robert, who is often away on business, and clearly lost in what it means to be a good father to Sam. By the final act, each character is growing to a realization that being a good family member means being there. For some it is a discovery that is too late and others it is something they are glad to just have made.
And glowing above all of the emotional stuff is the ever present and fascinating work of Rampling. The narrative calls for very little movement from her, often regulated to a wheelchair, but still playing a character that is full of a true history. Juniper is a strong directorial debut for Saville, someone who clearly has a knack for human emotions, and captures authentic interactions. The themes of life and death can be difficult to navigate and Juniper builds a bridge between the present and the past.
JUNIPER IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FEBRUARY 24TH AND AVAILABLE ON APPLE TV & AMAZON PRIME APRIL 4TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady