Juniper Image

Juniper

By Andy Howell | March 26, 2022

In Juniper, Mack (Madison Lawlor) decamps to her family’s cabin on the anniversary of her sister’s death, seeking some time alone to reflect. However, her solitude is interrupted by a surprise visit from her best friend Alex (Decker Sadowski) and Alex’s friend, Dylan (Olivia Blue). Before long, Alex’s brother Riley (Jacob Nichols) and his best friend Cole (Adam Rodriguez) show up as well. Tensions rise as the group struggles with different ways of processing grief, recall diverging memories of the past, causing long-buried secrets to be brought to the surface.

Director and co-writer Katherine Dudas has made a solid entry into the mumblecore genre, citing the Duplass brothers as an influence. The film is about the inner lives of 20-somethings told almost exclusively through dialogue. It was conceived during the pandemic when one of the actors, Olivia Blue, came up with the concept and called on her friends and fellow actors to star and Dudas, with whom she had worked before, to direct. The group raised $74,000 through crowdfunding and, with that tiny budget, managed to pull off a production that looks and feels like one several orders of magnitude more expensive.

“…the group struggles with different ways of processing grief…”

Where Juniper excels is in the performances, particularly of the lead trio. One of the hardest things to pull off in a low-budget independent movie is having charismatic leads who can really shine on screen and carry the story. Lawlor, Blue, and Sadowski are captivating, and they all get to run the emotional gamut from carefree laughter to tears to anger. Each character has their distinct point of view, even if their perspective is hidden at first, and all are completely convincing and compelling to watch. It is especially impressive that the dialogue and delivery work so well since most scenes were improvised. The group worked out the plot through Zoom sessions during the pandemic, and the leads share a writing credit with the director.

I’m not sure whether this is good or bad, but it was noticeable that some of the funniest lines come off camera. The director said she wanted the actors not to have the pressure of being funny in the moment but to concentrate on the intensity of the emotional journey. Given that they only had the budget for a few takes per scene, it is understandable that there were some punch-ups in the edit. I’d rather have the lines in there than out.

Juniper has some particularly outstanding individual sequences where characters start in one place and end up in a completely different one after a series of revelations. Some of these moments could go toe-to-toe with big-budget Hollywood films completely populated by professional actors. That’s particularly impressive given that this was the first feature for a few of the actors. The editing by Dudas and Michelle Botticelli is particularly tight – the movie breezes by at 72 minutes, and there is no fat left to cut. All scenes advance the plot or better develop the characters.

Juniper (2022)

Directed: Katherine Dudas

Written: Katherine Dudas, Madison Lawlor, Olivia Blue, Decker Sadowski

Starring: Madison Lawlor, Olivia Blue, Decker Sadowski, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Juniper Image

"…thoroughly and unapologetically a female-centered film..."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon