‘Juniper’ review: Trauma and plot devices obscure performances

The well-acted, well-intentioned family drama “Juniper” is inspired by the true life experiences of first-time feature writer-director Matthew J. Saville. So why doesn’t it feel richer and more lived?

There’s little news on the situation of the grumpy elderly person who is coerced into dating a recalcitrant youth only to overcome their mutual disdain and form a life-changing bond. We’ve seen it in countless movies: True Grit, On Golden Pond, Scent of a Woman, Gran Torino, and Joyride starring Olivia Colman to name a few.

As such, much about the set of 1992’s “Juniper,” which pits salty, gin-guzzling ex-war photographer Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) against her anxious, self-destructive 17-year-old grandson Sam (George Ferrier). It feels familiar and predictable. This wouldn’t automatically be a problem if the couple’s journey became deeper, more inclusive, and more plausible. But Saville too often skims the surface of his characters, substituting traumatic concepts and plot devices for narrative logic and genuinely authentic, compelling emotions.

That said, Ruth starts out as such an inexplicably monstrous figure—cursing, snarling, demanding, hurling highball glasses at Sam’s head (and wounding him)—that her transition to a more forgiving soul researcher seems like an impossible leap. With her wartime past, reputedly brilliant career, and fiery streak of independence, she’s a potentially intriguing figure. And the superb Rampling she plays with all she’s worth; It’s wonderful to see such a professional in action. But the veteran star’s outsized talent far outweighs the flimsy material.

That Ruth (as Ruth) would have decided to travel halfway across the world from England to recover from a badly broken leg with her estranged, widowed son Robert (Marton Csokas) and the grandson she never met is stretching credibility, even after we found out what’s behind their motivation.

Furthermore, the extent of the damage in Ruth and Robert’s relationship is not explained, aside from the fact that she sent him to boarding school when he was a boy and would never reveal who his real father was. It feels like a bunch of time isn’t being considered, especially given Robert’s continued disdain for her.

Citing his mother’s desire to meet Sam, Robert reluctantly – but also unconvincingly – lets Ruth and her nurse Sarah (Edith Poor) move into his rural home in New Zealand. But he immediately flies to London to, we’re told, tend to Ruth’s finances, leaving the clearly ill-equipped, emotionally fragile Sam to oversee his terrible grandmother. It’s a terrible upbringing (for a father who’s painted as distant but not terrible) as well as a head-scratching invention to get the story going.

Saville does a better job of fleshing out the case of Sam, so devastated by the death of his beloved mother that he is a whirling dervish with conflicting emotions and unbridled acts, some of which result in him being kicked out of boarding school. Unfortunately, this event plays out like another device, as does a failed attempt to hang himself on his mother’s birthday. Still, the handsome Ferrier, with his open, expressive face and strong performance, proves himself a worthy sparring partner against the formidable Rampling.

After the film’s stormy start (including a “meet-not-cute” in which Sam has to help his wheelchair-dependent grandma to the bathroom), Sam and Ruth find common ground in terms of a shared fondness for alcohol, even if the stubborn Ruth can drink the naive teenager under the table.

It leads to Ruth, who appears to be very alert, throwing a beer party for Sam and his circle of friends in exchange for them cleaning up the house’s neglected garden (the daily view from her wheelchair). Ruth becomes “cool grandma” for a day, even showing off her gun skills, strengthening her bond with Sam. But the sequence takes too long and evaporates as the news spreads among local children and a nighttime rage ensues.

The film, strikingly directed by Marty Williams, comes together in a more sentimental, mainstream manner than most that precedes its audience-friendly conclusion. The result, while not an unsatisfying way to knock us out, feels under-deserved.

As for the movie’s odd title, it alludes to the juniper berries, which are a key ingredient in gin and give the liqueur its unique flavor. If only the film were so different.


Not rated

Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Play: Lammle Monica, Santa Monica; Lämmle city center 5, Encino; AMC Burbank Downtown 8; AMC Rolling Hills 20, Torrance; Lammle Claremont 5

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-02-23/review-juniper-charlotte-rampling ‘Juniper’ review: Trauma and plot devices obscure performances

Sarah Ridley

Sarah Ridley is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Sarah Ridley joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing sarahridley@ustimespost.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button