Juniper movie review & film summary (2023)


Set in New Zealand, the film’s initial focus is on Sam (George Ferrier), a troubled young man still reeling from the recent death of his mother. His father, Robert (Marton Csokas), has decided to ship him off to boarding school, where he’s constantly acting out and getting into trouble. After yet another incident, Robert brings him home with news—his own estranged mother, the legendary war photographer and gin enthusiast Ruth (Rampling) has broken her leg back in England, and she, along with her devoted nurse, Sarah (Edith Poor), will be coming to stay with them to recover. Needless to say, Sam isn’t enthused about the arrival of someone he’s never met who will be staying in his mother’s bedroom. He’s even less happy when, as soon as she is ensconced, Robert goes off to London on business, essentially abandoning both his mother and son at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Ruth isn’t thrilled with her predicament or the current arrangement either—when the well-meaning Sarah brings a priest around, Ruth chases him off with a bribe and a few choice vulgarities. And when Sam deliberately waters down her gin, she responds by bouncing the glass off his head. However, as they’re forced to spend more time together, the two gradually discover they have more in common than they might have initially suspected, and a bond begins to grow between them. Of course, this hard-earned bit of emotional peace cannot last. And so arrives a tragic, if not wholly unexpected, turn in the final act that forces the two to come to terms with their lives and their respective relationships with Robert before time runs out for both of them.

There’s probably not a major plot development in “Juniper” one couldn’t glean from hearing a one-line description of the plot. There are also a number of hiccups in Saville’s screenplay that bear the sometimes-awkward mark of a first-time filmmaker—the occasional presence of a horse that used to belong to Sam’s late mother is far too symbolic for its own good, and the troubled relationship between Robert and Ruth is undeveloped. And yet, while the film never quite transcends its familiar trappings, it does occasionally offer enough of a spin on them to make them reasonably effective.


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