Written and directed by Matthew J. Saville, when a self-destructive teenager is suspended from school and asked to look after his feisty alcoholic grandmother as a punishment, the crazy time they spend together turns his life around. Starring: Charlotte Rampling, George Ferrier, Marton Csokas and Edith Poor.
First and foremost, no-one will ever go wrong in casting Charlotte Rampling. For almost sixty years Rampling has been absolutely slaying onscreen, no matter the length of the appearance, what genre it is or the type of character; she nails it every time without question. Here she comes out of the gate running with a charmingly blunt and cantankerous personality. She’s so delightfully harsh as Ruth and gets across the layers to that frustration, having lived a full life and now confined to a chair, unable to care for herself. A performance that only improves when faced with the recklessness, anger and impatience of George Ferrier’s Sam. As per usual their generational differences and her reliance upon him makes for a rocky beginning, and it’s almost as satisfying to watch as when they finally see eye to eye. They build a very genuine and touching connection, Sam helping Ruth come to terms with her mortality, while she helps him to embrace life.
Admittedly there are a number of aspects to this story which don’t scream originality, its basic concept is something that we’ve seen before but it never feels repetitive or overly familiar. A lot of that comes from the fairly aggressive personalities to its characters. Their connection feels fresh, the story is paced out well and moves in a natural manner. It’s fairly easy going, it does acknowledge the sadness and looming end but it never tries to force a larger sentimentality. That’s not to say it isn’t sentimental at all, there are certainly a few more stereotypical moments thrown in there but they’re fairly sporadic. As a whole it’s simply a charming story with memorable characters.
Visually it succeeds in much the same manner, it doesn’t try to become too heavy but does have a stillness at times to reflect the emotional nature. It does a great job of creating a balance of its more intimate, closed in scenes with some nice natural imagery. The latter also helps to bring a bigger note of colour but the aesthetic is strong throughout with a satisfying clarity to its cinematography. One of the strongest elements is how they reflect the harshness of Ruth’s character in the early scenes. Matthew J. Saville does a superb job of capturing that initial coldness, conflict and resentment between Ruth and Sam.
Juniper tells us a familiar story but brings plenty more to the table. Led by another stellar performance from Charlotte Rampling, bringing her usual strong presence alongside the chaos by George Ferrier. It may not be entirely new but it has a sincere charm, holds your attention flawlessly and is genuinely moving.