Directed by Matthew J. Saville, Juniper tells the story of Sam (George Ferrier), a teenager struggling with self-destructive behavior. When he?s finally suspended from school, his frustrated father Robert (Marton Csokas) demands that he cares for his ailing (but alcoholic) grandmother Ruth (Charlotte Rampling). Ruth is a fiery woman who refuse to play by the rules but, as Sam grows closer to her, the two begin to find the best in each other? and themselves.
With some surprising fire and fury, Juniper is a heartwarming film about the power of learning how to live and the joy that it can spark in one another. Saville tells a simple story that puts the emphasis entirely on his performers. This becomes a wise decision as what ultimately sparks the film is an incredible performance by Rampling. As the gruff and grumpy granny, Rampling may have a stern face but we also believe that she is covering up a warm heart. Although her sharp demeanour attempts to keep most people away, Rampling slowly allows us to see through the cracks to the heart of a lonely woman, crippled by regret. Rampling always does a good job of bringing humility your characters, but she does a particularly good job here of creating empathy for this lovable curmudgeon.
At its heart, Juniper is a story of broken people, grappling with loss. For this family, trauma is a generational problem, and it has left scars on them all. Ruth has never been able to truly settle her soul in a relationship. Robert struggles with issues of abandonment and fear, despite having his mother in his life. Of course, this extends to Sam who also feels disconnected within his own home. At each level, characters fear allowing themselves to be loved by another. To them, drawing close to another individual feels like a threat to their soul, be it either emotionally or physically.
However, at the same time, this is also a film about brutal honesty. As she is approaching the end of her life, Ruth has no time for anything but the truth. As a result, she cuts through social propriety by speaking her mind with candor. Whether it?s the doctor instructing her how much time she has left to live or her son?s rules about having parties, Ruth has decided that she will decide for herself how to live her life. And it?s this energy that makes her character endearing. For example, she is willing to challenge Sam?s struggles with women, reminding him that that?s an important part of growing up. In moments like these, Sam begins to experience the sort of support that he has been missing from his emotionally absentee father. To Sam, Ruth becomes the one who has chosen to invest in him, even if it is not in the traditional sense.
For Ruth, much of her life may have passed her by? but she understands that it is something that Sam can still experience. In doing so, Juniper highlights the ways that honesty can become a form of grace, tearing down barriers between characters. Here, secrets cause pain but truth provides a chance to heal.
Backed by Rampling?s stellar work, Saville?s simple story of grace with an edge becomes a trip home worth taking. Like Ruth herself, there?s genuine heart underneath its gruff exterior. By leaning into the hurt,?Juniper also sparks the chance to heal, even for those who have carried their pain for generations.
Juniper is available in theatres on Friday, February 24th, 2023.