Directed by Matthew J. Saville
Written by Matthew J. Saville
Starring Charlotte Rampling, George Ferrier, Martin Csokas, Edith Poor
Release Date February 24th, 2023
Published February 24th, 2023
There is a lovely true story behind the movie Juniper. It's based on the real life experience of writer-director Matthew J. Saville. His grandmother broke her leg and because she was limited in her ability to get around, she moved from Europe to New Zealand to live with family. She was a difficult woman, a hard drinker, not easy to get along with. Over time, Saville and his grandmother forged a bond and that bond is at the heart of the movie, Juniper. It's quite a lovely story and if it were an anecdote related by a friend over dinner, it'd be terrific. As a movie, it's lacking in incident.
Charlotte Rampling stars in Juniper as the cantankerous, Ruth, grandmother to Sam, played by George Ferrier. Ruth is moving to New Zealand to live with Sam and his father after she broke her leg and became unable to care for herself. Ruth is none too pleased about this arrangement and neither is Sam who is also reeling from the death of his mother. In fact, the room that Ruth is set to occupy is the same room where Sam's mother spent her last days before passing away, adding another layer of sadness to the situation.
When Sam gets himself suspended from his private school, following a fight during a rugby game, he's sent back home where his father, Robert (Martin Csokas), enlists him to help Ruth's nurse, Sarah (Edith Poor), care for Ruth. Things get off to a contentious start to say the least. Ruth is slowly drinking herself to death. She has a pitcher of Gin, cut with a little water and lemon, next to her at all times. When Sam attempts to limit the amount of Gin in this mixture, he ends up getting a glass tossed at his which leaves a little scar.
Naturally, over the period of this story, several weeks by the evidence of the movie, the relationship between Sam and Ruth will improve. She won't stop drinking, of course, but she becomes less openly verbally abusive. In return, Sam is slightly less hostile until finally, they become genuinely close. This closeness is fostered by Ruth allowing Sam to throw a party for all of his private school friends where she provides the liquor and becomes the star of the show as everyone thanks her for the libations and gathers around to hear stories about her youth.
A significant part of what limited my enjoyment of Juniper is a marketing campaign that pretends that Juniper is a dark comedy. There is no comedy in Juniper. The marketing of the film would lead you to believe that Charlotte Rampling is delivering an acidic withering wit to every scene, insulting everyone around her but with some charm. That's simply not what this movie is. Yes, Ruth is bitter and difficult but she softens with relative ease and the movie sensitively explores her relationship to Sam and Sam's relationship with his father, all of which is the result of their shared trauma over losing Sam's mother at such a relatively young age.
That's a fine enough story and the movie delivers that story with warmth and sensitivity. Why try to make this appear like a movie that it is not? It only harms the experience of what is a fine, if somewhat mundane, drama. Marketers are gonna market, I guess, but they've done a disservice to this film. They are likely to leave audiences unsatisfied with this otherwise well made, thoughtful, and sensitive exploration of grief, aging, and family strife. I don't love the movie, it's a little light on incident, it drags a little as it seeks to create incidents among these characters, but it's far from a bad movie.
Juniper is a relatively minor drama that is most notable for starring the legendary Charlotte Rampling who delivers another of her dignified and commanding dramatic performances. I'm trying hard not to take her talent for granted, she's just so effortlessly good at this point in her career that it can almost appear by rote. Rampling elevates the movie with her presence, she makes the rest of the cast, especially newcomer George Ferrier, better by her presence alone. Perhaps the marketing should have focused on how Charlotte Rampling is one of our finest dramatic actors instead of trying to sell people Bad Grandma New Zealand Style.
Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. If you've enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing here on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one-time tip. Thanks!