by George Wolf
So you’ve got the final draft of your first full screenplay, which you plan to develop for your debut feature as a director. It’s a solid script, but it treads some familiar ground, and there’s never much doubt about where it will lead in act three.
What’s the smart play? Cast esteemed talent that’s capable of elevating that material at every turn. And writer/director Matthew J. Saville is no dummy, letting the great Charlotte Rampling leave a memorable mark all over Juniper, a family drama blessed with fine performances across the ensemble.
Rampling is Ruth, an alcoholic and former war photographer who has moved in with her estranged son, the recently-widowed Robert (Marton Csokas), as she recovers from a broken leg. But Robert must attend to some business out of town, leaving his teenage son Sam (George Ferrier) to assist Nurse Sarah (Edith Poor) every time Ruth rings that damn bell.
She rings it often, and Sam is not amused by this grandmother he’s never met before suddenly barking orders at him.
But Sam isn’t amused by much. The death of his mother is still a fresh wound, his father seems clueless to his needs, and the young ladies aren’t too interested lately. Plus, Sam’s been suspended from school, which gives Robert an excuse to punish him with elder-sitting duties.
Can this resentful teen and his feisty granny find some common ground in their anger at the world, maybe even develop a begrudging respect on their way to learning from each other, and cherishing this new family bond?
The things Ruth has seen have hardened her to pretense and empty gestures, and she’s only too happy to dig into everyone around her as she searches for those with substance and a zest for living. Rampling brings all of this to the screen with wonderful authenticity, sometimes needing only a steely glare to get the job done. She’s a treasure.
And kudos to the young Mr. Ferrier. He doesn’t let Rampling’s shadow block him out, and the two share a natural chemistry that fuels the organic melting of the ice between their two characters.
Saville’s storytelling is sound and well-intentioned, it’s just not overly profound. Much like nearly every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, the trick for Juniper is how well it gets to where you know it’s going. And thanks to Rampling and her solid support, the trip is constantly engaging.