(New Zealand)

Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10)

Individuals seeking to sort out their personal challenges sometimes need to work together to achieve meaningful results. What’s more, strange as it may seem, these situations often call for the formation of unlikely pairings to attain desired outcomes. Such is the case in writer-director Matthew J. Saville’s debut feature about the unusual and stormy but beneficial relationship between a troubled teen (George Ferrier) mourning the loss of his mother and his prickly, salty-tongued English grandmother (Charlotte Rampling), a retired, independently minded war correspondent with a drinking problem who’s convalescing from a severely broken leg at the family’s remote New Zealand farm. What begins as a reluctant, seriously strained connection between two nonconformists gradually evolves into a knowing bond between a pair of mavericks who recognize, celebrate and act upon their unconventional impulses, acts that allow them to fulfill their potential as strong-willed individuals who aren’t timid about fully and freely being themselves. In many ways, this is not the kind of association that one would expect to develop under circumstances like these, a development that gives this story a fresh take on intergenerational relations. But that’s also why the film disappoints somewhat by ultimately falling back on a somewhat predictable narrative line and not allowing its innate strength to become as fully fleshed out as it could have been, particularly where the revelation of motivations is concerned. Nevertheless, those shortcomings are made up for by the picture’s gorgeous cinematography of rural New Zealand, as well as the excellent break-out performance of Ferrier and the positively outstanding portrayal of Rampling, who handily turns in some of the best work of her career here. “Juniper” may not live up to everything it could have been, but it has a lot going for it that’s well worthwhile, especially in its ability to move audience members as the story plays out. Enjoy what makes this moving comedy-drama work, but be sure to keep those hankies handy.