MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 24, 2023: JUNIPER

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Charlotte Rampling has played many memorable characters over the course of the multiple decades of her impressive acting career, cementing her status as a grand dame of the screen. So it’s no surprise that she turns in another impressive performance in Matthew J. Saville’s moving New Zealand drama Juniper, which tells the story of the unlikely connection between a fiercely independent woman and her self-destructive teenage grandson.

Sam (George Ferrier) is hurting, still grieving the fairly recent death of his mother and angry at his father, Robert (Marton Csokas), for not finding a way to bridge the ensuing distance between them. In fact, Robert has packed Sam off to boarding school — and now expects Sam to spend his holidays helping care for his grandmother, Ruth, a former globe-trotting photo journalist who now needs somewhere to stay after suffering a particularly nasty broken leg. Not only is Ruth distant and irascible, but she’s also an alcoholic who literally hurls a glass at Sam when he dares to water down her drink.

It seems impossible to believe that these two troubled people would ever be able to find comfort in each other, but they gradually find an understanding and eventually even begin to take pleasure in spending time together. What starts out as a burdensome obligation for Sam becomes a chance to learn more about his background and history — and Ruth sees in Sam the chance to leave something worthy behind after a life lived with plenty of excitement but not much in the way of meaningful connection.

Saville directs both of his stars with assurance, perhaps drawing on his own experience as an actor (Juniper is his directorial debut). Rampling’s Ruth is all haughty grandeur and cold pride, but she has flaws that humanize her and ultimately spark viewers’ empathy. And Ferrier holds his own with her, building a rapport that feels genuine, so that their relationship has real emotional weight. Like the sunrises that Ruth loves, Juniper is a drama that unfolds slowly and gradually before finally finding its revelatory moments. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Months after his mother dies, a loss teenage Sam (George Ferrier) has yet to fully grapple with, his dad Robert (Marton Csokas) brings his own mother Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) and her nurse Sarah (Edith Poor) from England to their home in New Zealand. Grandmama and Sam are complete strangers and they do not hit it off. Sam is surly; Ruth, recovering from a broken leg and dealing with other health complications, is an alcoholic who drinks gin by the pitcherful. But as Sam comes to know this former war photographer who raised Robert all by herself he begins to warm to her and recognize they have more in common than appearances would suggest. There is an air of predictability in writer/director Matthew J. Saville’s first feature—the story is dependent, after all, on the ice breaking between Sam and Ruth—but that scarcely matters. Characters and dialogue are sharply written and Saville finds ample humor in what is an often sad situation. Best of all, it is simply a pleasure to watch a screen icon and a newcomer go toe to toe and come out equals. Rampling is her usual brilliant self, while Saville has made quite the find in charismatic young Ferrier.

Sherin Nicole  If Juniper had a secondary title, it might be An Inherited Misery. Matthew J. Saville’s multigenerational drama studies the phrase: Hurt people hurt people—and how that harm can persist for lifetimes. A grandmother (Charlotte Rampling) avoids her pain and births trauma into her son (Marton Csokas), which eventually exacerbates the many wounds his son (George Ferrier) carries. That is where this story begins. The three are so very unkind to one another; they strike out with a casualness that dismays. Yet, Juniper is also a meditative love story between the grandmother and her grandson, taking them from toxic to tender. If only the aftertaste of toxicity lingered less. Unbothered, Rampling remains captivating as always, and Ferrier is a hidden well of pain that flows toward,.

Nell Minow: Charlotte Rampling is as refreshingly dry as a martini in a movie named for the berry that produces the cocktail’s key alcoholic ingredient. She plays a woman who has run out of ways to protect her from regret. Seeing her begin to acknowledge her need for others makes Juniper a worthy watch.

Jamie Broadnax Juniper offers an introspective narrative between two people who are different in age but have similar worldviews on this journey called life. Ruth (Charlotte Rampling), a disabled aging woman who has reached the last stage of her life meets her grandson Sam (George Ferrier). It is this relationship that starts out a bit tempestuous at first, but later blossoms into something significant that changes the trajectory of both of their lives forever. Matthew J. Saville’s script takes us on a trip that weaves in and out of the lives of these two protagonists that respectively are dealing with their own internal struggles that bubble up to the surface. The momentum of the film’s pacing is a bit slower than desired, it does get to the ultimate climax of unveiling what Ruth and Sam need to have fulfilled in each other’s lives. Charlotte Rampling gives a stunning performance and captivates every scene.

Marilyn Ferdinand The juniper berry is used to make gin, and as the title of this feature directorial debut by New Zealand filmmaker Matthew Saville, it refers to the bitter drink of choice of his equally astringent central character, Ruth (Charlotte Rampling), who packs it away at the rate of a bottle a day. We meet Ruth when she arrives at the rural New Zealand home of her estranged son, Robert (Marton Csokas), to recuperate from a badly broken leg with him and his 17-year-old son, Sam (George Ferrier). Robert is called away, and despite the presence of Ruth’s nurse (Edith Poor), all does not go well. Ruth’s volatile personality fuels Sam’s reluctance to do more than the minimum to keep her alive. However, secrets are slowly revealed, suppressed emotions are given room to move, and by the last frame, the family is healed. Although Csokas and Poor have their roles to play, the film really is a two-hander between veteran actor Rampling and newcomer Ferrier. They have wonderful chemistry and work believably toward a loving relationship (though Rampling never seems the least bit drunk despite her conspicuous consumption). Juniper has a big heart and a belief that even the worst wounds can heal with love and understanding.

Leslie Combemale Loneliness comes in many guises. Sometimes it’s laced with regret and about wanting a little more time, sometimes it’s survivor’s guilt, grieving and missing someone so much that imagining one more day is almost too much. That’s what pulls together the two leads in Juniper. The performances are what shine here, especially Charlotte Rampling and George Ferrier’s work as scene partners. There’s electricity between them, which keeps the audience’s attention, elevating a heartfelt movie that doesn’t worry about saying anything new. Writer/director Matthew J. Saville is banking on the belief that complicated families are compelling enough, and to Rampling and Ferrier’s credit, in this case, he’s right.

Jennifer Merin Juniper is a compelling family drama starring Charlotte Rampling as a feisty irascible alcoholic grandmother who is accustomed to living independently and having her own way about everything. But, she has suffered a crippling broken bone in her leg that renders her completely dependent upon her estranged son and her truly troubled teenage grandson. The developing relationship between the elder and the boy is the heart and soul of this story that has an abundance of heart and soul — after it gets through some tumultuous interpersonal generational family trauma. Charlotte Rampling is brilliant, as always, and the supporting cast, including handsome George Ferrier as her grandson, is superb. This is a first feature from actor turned writer/director Matthew J. Saville, and his take on this very complex grandma is thoroughly convincing and superbly right.

Loren King Charlotte Rampling is so magnetic and fierce onscreen that she elevates even predictable material. Juniper is a showcase for Rampling as Ruth, a former war photographer and acerbic alcoholic. But she shares most of her scenes with George Ferrier as Sam, the teenage grandson she barely knows, and the tough Ruth and wounded Sam make an effective screen pair. Ruth arrives at her son’s (Marton Csokas) isolated and picturesque New Zealand home to convalesce after breaking her leg. Sam, who’s been thrown out of boarding school, is also broken. He’s depressed, even suicidal, over the recent death of his mother. Ruth and Sam initially clash but it’s obvious from the start that bonding will ensue. The two leads make us care about these characters and the ending, even if it comes as little surprise, is profoundly moving. We already know what a powerhouse Rampling is; the revelation here is Ferrier, so open and natural as an angry but vulnerable boy as he falls a bit in love with the irascible woman who is his grandmother. And who can blame him?

Liz Whittemore We find Sam in dire straits, seeking trouble wherever he can. His estranged grandmother Ruth is a former award-winning photojournalist whose alcoholism and recent leg injury have intensified her spite. When Ruth moves in, Sam’s father uses work as an excuse to escape. Things get tense and personal when Sam becomes a reluctant caretaker. Their mutual resentment for their current circumstances forces them to confront their deep seeded issues, make a change or die trying. George Ferrier plays Sam with a ferocious spirit driven by unresolved grief. Charlotte Rampling plays Ruth with every bit of spitfire to match Ferrier. Together they discover they are more alike and earn each other’s love and respect. Juniper embraces the darkness and walks through it with fierce honesty and sharp humor.

Cate Marquis Charlotte Rampling steals the show as a feisty alcoholic grandmother in the New Zealand cross-generations family drama Juniper. She is a joy to watch in this little drama, and although the ending is a bit too neat in director Matthew Saville’s semi-biographical film, Rampling shines like the sun from start to finish. Read full review


Title: Juniper

Directors: Matthew J. Saville

Release Date: February 24, 2023

Running Time: 94 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Matthew J. Saville

Distribution Company: Greenwich Entertainment

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).