On paper, Stephanie Turner’s Justine really shouldn’t be as good as it is. The story of a mother who neglects her family, but changes her ways after caring for a girl with disabilities, is not necessarily a new one. Turner decides to make an old story new by adding fresh elements and steadfastly holds to a clear vision for her film’s look and tone.
Lisa Wade (Stephanie Turner) is a single mother of two. In fact, Lisa is recently widowed because her husband died in military service for reasons still under investigation. With no real income, Lisa and family are living in the garage of her father-in-law Papa Don’s (Glynn Turman) home. Lisa is under a great deal of stress looking for work and frustrated to no end that the military is dragging its feet investigating her husband’s death.
With few jobs available, Lisa reluctantly agrees to be the nanny of Justine (Daisy Prescott), a young girl with spina bifida. Her job is to care for all of Justine’s physical needs seven days a week. Justine’s parents are successful real estate professionals and don’t have the time to be with Justine all day. They are also a little overprotective, keeping Justine out of public school in fear of what the other kids might do or say.
“…reluctantly agrees to be the nanny of Justine, a young girl with spina bifida. Her job is to care for all of Justine’s physical needs…”
Meanwhile, at home, Papa Don is equally frustrated that Lisa is barely taking care of her own kids and relies too much on him to be the surrogate parent to her children. Taking matters into his own hands, Don goes to counseling at the local VA and brings the kids along in hopes of figuring out a solution to his Lisa problem.
As you might guess, Lisa becomes emotionally attached to Justine as she indirectly teaches Justine to stand up for herself…with a few choice swear words…after being bullied by some rich “bitches” in the park. From here, Lisa must find some sort of life balance with her own children, her father-in-law, the ongoing military investigation, Justine’s parents—who are slightly racist and overprotective, and then come to grips with own personal anger issues.
Justine is a fantastic, little, indie film and its success comes directly from its writer/director/star Stephanie Turner. Her performance as Lisa is well-developed and fascinating to watch. Her character is balanced off by an equally fantastic performance by Glynn Turman. While Lisa is slowly falling apart, he plays the solid foundation that keeps her from completely losing it, while at the same time being pushed to his own limits.
“Her performance as Lisa is well-developed and fascinating to watch…”
So not only is Turner directing and starring in her film but then adds the pressure of working with child actors, who are all probably under ten. Sure, the kids in the film could have put a few more years of acting school under their belts, but Turner does get some good performances out of them. Daisy Prescott as Justine is adorable, and if she really isn’t disabled, then she deserves an Oscar.
Not to keep going on about the work Turner put into her film, the story is also solid and stays grounded by refusing to go over-the-top at any point in its narrative. While Justine’s parents may be unlikable and you may not agree with their parenting choices for Justine, Turner keeps the film’s conflicts within Lisa herself. It’s a nice, tight script that stays on course from beginning to end.
In every way, Justine shines with the charm associated with independent filmmaking. In fact, a big budget could have easily ruined this film by replacing authentic performances from its cast with slick performances by studio professionals. This also applies to the indie style of Justine’s cinematography, sound, and editing. Everything about this film feels real and is void of any Hollywood pretension.
Justine (2019) Written and directed by Stephanie Turner. Starring Stephanie Turner, Glynn Turman, Darby Stanchfield, Josh Stamberg, Cleo King, Daisy Prescott. Justine screened at the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival.
8.5 out of 10 stars