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JUNIPER: 3 STARS. “characters come alive in a way that plucks at the heartstrings.”

In “Juniper,” a quiet intergenerational family drama from New Zealand and now playing in theatres, a grandmother and grandson bond over the regrets and difficulties of their lives.

Charlotte Rampling stars as Ruth, an English, boozy ex-war photographer, who decides to recuperate from a badly broken leg at her estranged son’ Robert’s (Marton Csokas) home outside Auckland. Although wheelchair bound, she has an almost unquenchable taste for alcohol, a sharp wit and, she says, the desire to have one last great romantic fling.

When her seventeen-year-old grandson Sam (George Ferrier), still stinging from the death of his mother, returns home to find the seventy-six-year-old woman living in his house, he isn’t pleased at the prospect of having to look after her, even with the help of a live-in nurse (Edith Poor).

The pair get off to a rough start, but as time passes, one life wilts while the other begins to blossom.

“Juniper” is a poignant, if predictable, movie about connection. As Ruth and Sam parse their differences, working through the accumulated regret that scarred their lives, the two form an unlikely bond. The circumstances of their situation may be unique—the setting etc—but the story arc itself isn’t.

We’ve seen this kind of coming-of-age story before but Ferrier and Rampling bring the characters alive in a way that plucks at the heartstrings. Low key performances emphasize Ruth and Sam’s internal conflicts, but it Rampling who commands the screen. Ruth is a regal, complex character and Rampling makes her compelling, if not exactly warm, with a winning mix of stillness and feistiness.

“Juniper” takes some time to get where it is going, but once invested in this odd couple, the familiar story beats fade and the strength of the relationship takes over, making for a more interesting ride to the film’s predictable conclusion.

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