JUNIPER (2023)

February 23, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. A tale as old as time. No, this first feature film from writer-director Matthew J Seville is not a new spin on ‘Beauty and the Beast’, however it is a story that has a familiar feel, and one made more meaningful through terrific acting and expert cinematography. We are engaged through characters rather than plot, and in fact, we grow to care about two of these people after initially finding both a bit abrasive.

Charlotte Rampling stars as Ruth, aging mom to Robert (an underutilized Marton Csokas). The two have never been especially close as Ruth’s career as a war photographer allowed her to escape traditional parental duties. With a recent broken leg set in a cast and brace, Ruth finds her wings clipped and Robert senses an opportunity. By moving Ruth into the house during recovery, he can have his son, Sam (George Ferrier), help Nurse Sarah (Edith Poor). Sam is a party boy recently expelled from his boarding school and wants nothing to do with the convalescing grandmother he barely knows.

Dad’s ulterior motive gets off to a rough start. Both Ruth and Sam are hard-headed and rebellious. In fact, it’s these traits that end up drawing them closer. Ruth seems to survive on her all day gin-binges as her vile vocal spewings are those of a woman whose world has shrunk to the point of feeling captive. Sam is one who doesn’t take direction well as he tries to hide his depression and grief driven by the death of his mother. Adding to this mess is Nurse Sarah’s consistent attempts to inject some religion into Ruth before the bell tolls.

What we have is self-destruction times two. Ruth and Sam are rude and self-centered, and those shared traits end up thawing the icy relationship and improving their much different circumstances. George Ferrier is a relative newcomer from New Zealand, and he has the looks and on-screen charm to build a nice career. Of course, Charlotte Rampling is in her seventh decade of acting, and she instinctively knows how far she can push this character and still keep us engaged. It’s a terrific performance that probably deserved an Oscar nomination. The cinematography of Marty Williams works in the enclosed spaces of the house, as well as the beautiful landscape when the characters head outdoors. Some of the scenes may be a bit too much ‘on the nose’, but the humor and acting allows for the desired impact.

Opens February 24, 2023