Matthew J. Saville’s directorial debut, “Juniper,” is a poignant film that explores the complexities of family relationships and personal struggles. Set and filmed in New Zealand, the film follows the story of Sam, a 17-year-old boy who has been sent to an all-boys boarding school by his father, Martin Csokas.
After being suspended from school, Sam is tasked with caring for his estranged grandmother, Ruth, played by Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling, who is an alcoholic and former war photographer now confined to a wheelchair.
The film may not break new ground in terms of its plot, but the script is filled with enough sharp dialogue to keep the audience engaged. The characters are not new either, with the familiar trope of two people who initially despise each other eventually finding common ground and coming to care for each other deeply. However, the performances of the cast, particularly Rampling’s portrayal of Ruth, elevate the film and make it a worthwhile watch.
Rampling’s Ruth is a prickly, nosy, and feisty woman, but the actress’s award-nominated performance makes her character charming, funny, and sympathetic. The non-judgmental manner in which Ruth’s alcoholism is presented adds another layer to her character, making her more complex and realistic.
Edith Poor, who plays Ruth’s longtime nurse, also delivers a solid performance and becomes an honorary member of the family.
While the film is meant to be from Sam’s perspective, we never really see into his psyche. George Ferrier’s performance as Sam leaves something to be desired, and the character comes off as more insufferable and annoying than sympathetic. As a result, it is challenging to care about his character or feel invested in his story.
“Juniper” is a well-made film with solid direction and a strong script. While it may not be groundbreaking, it is an enjoyable journey that offers an excellent showcase for its talented cast, particularly Rampling. The film’s slow pace may turn off some viewers, but at only 94 minutes, it does not overstay its welcome. Ultimately, “Juniper” is a film about family, love, and redemption that is worth watching for its compelling characters and excellent performances.