Juniper, 2021, 3 stars

Gin and tonic

Exclusive to MeierMovies, April 4, 2022

Often used as ornamentals, the attractive juniper plant gives gin its lovely flavor. Conversely, it is quite stubborn, thriving in many environments. And its pointy, needle-like foliage can prick you if you’re not careful.

For purposes of a cinematic metaphor, Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) is a juniper. The key difference, of course, is that she doesn’t provide the flavor for her gin – she drinks it. A lot of it. So, understandably, her 17-year-old grandson Sam is apprehensive when, upon returning home from boarding school, he learns that the wheelchair-bound, alcoholic curmudgeon is moving in with him and his dad temporarily. He’s already suffered the recent loss of his beloved mother, and he must now endure this crusty, unwanted addition to his already dysfunctional family.

The feature directorial debut of New Zealand’s Matthew J. Saville (who also penned the script), Juniper is unabashedly derivative, adding little to the familiar stories of a seemingly unapproachable old person warming to the companionship of a youth, and vice versa. Scent of a Woman comes to mind, despite the obvious story differences and lack of “hoo-ah” charisma. Still, in the hands of the irresistible Rampling, Ruth would be more than a match for Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade. And competent performances from relative newcomer George Ferrier as Sam, Marton Csokas (The Last Duel) as his dad and Edith Poor (The Power of the Dog) as Ruth’s nurse turn Juniper from a simple domestic drama into a more meaningful meditation on family.

The movie also doubles well as a commentary on both aging and coming-of-age. And, as gin has juniper, the film is flavored nicely with Aboriginal Kiwi.

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This review is part of my coverage of the 2022 Florida Film Festival. For more information about the event and an index of reviews of other festival films, go here. For more information on this movie, visit IMDB.