The Movie Waffler Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - JUNIPER | The Movie Waffler

Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - JUNIPER

juniper review
A young woman's plan to grieve alone at a remote cabin is disrupted by the arrival of her childhood friend.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Katherine Dudas

Starring: Madison Lawlor, Decker Sadowski, Olivia Blue, Jacob Nichols, Adam Rodriguez

juniper poster

A heavily improvised mumblecore drama about a bunch of young millennials in a cabin drinking gin from jam jars while twee indie pop plays on the soundtrack would usually be the stuff of nightmares for this writer. Kudos then to writer/director Katherine Dudas and her talented young cast for making a movie that while ticking all those clichéd boxes, actually has something novel to say.

Perhaps forced by the circumstances of the pandemic, we're seeing a lot of movies lately where characters decamp to a remote cabin for some alone time only to find they're not actually alone. Recent examples include Katie Holmes' Alone Together, the Winona Ryder fronted thriller Gone in the Night, and the Islamophobia drama This Teacher. Juniper has a similar setup, though in this case the remote cabin is owned by the family of the protagonist.

juniper review

A year after the death of her sister Natalie, twentysomething Mack (Madison Lawlor) heads to her family's summer cabin for some alone time in a location that brings back many good memories of time spent with her sister. Her plans are disrupted by the arrival of her childhood friend Alex (Decker Sadowski), who arrives unannounced with her college buddy Dylan (Olivia Blue) in tow.

What ensues is a smart look at the grieving process. Some, like Mack, prefer to grieve alone, while others, like Alex, feel it's important to be around loved ones. This leads to much bickering as the forceful, strong-willed and indeed, bossy Alex practically bullies her friend into seeing things her way. It's not all abrasive, as the girls share some drunken good times reminiscing over their childhood. Yet, the fact that they need to bring up the past to get along suggests that maybe this is a friendship that has run its course.

juniper review

Movies like to push the romantic notion that friendships forged in childhood are the strongest you'll ever have; like the narrator of Stand by Me says, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." But how many of us even maintain contact with our childhood friends, let alone consider them still part of our inner circle? The truth is, childhood friends are a bit like family – you don’t really choose them, they just happen to live in your neighbourhood and so you hang out together. It's only when you leave home or go to college that your circle widens and you get to pick friends that you really have something in common with. This is clearly represented by the friendship between Alex and Dylan, which is far stronger than that between Alex and Mack, even if Dylan can't bring herself to confess her romantic feelings for Alex.

If Mack is set up initially as the centre of the story, it's Dylan who gradually begins to take the limelight, initially through her loud and boisterous personality but later as a tortured young woman carrying a deep sadness. Blue's performance is fantastic, turning what might have been a one-note ditzy, horoscope and tarot card loving stereotype into a well-rounded and believable character who becomes the film's most sympathetic figure. A similar thing happens with the later arrival of Alex's brother Riley (Jacob Nichols), who seems like a stereotypical frat boy but shows layers of warmth towards his sister as her childhood friendship collapses around her.

juniper review

If viewers judge Juniper by a brief online synopsis they may dismiss it as another drop in the mumblecore ocean. To do so would be to miss out on one of the more interesting movies to emerge from the constraints of the pandemic. If Dudas and her cast can produce something this genuine in such limited circumstances, I look forward to what they might do with a little more room to breath.

 screened at the Vashon Island Film Festival.

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