Homegrown Pictures/Mandalay Pictures/Netflix
Directed by Clark Johnson
Produced by Stephanie Allain/Jason Michael Berman/Mel Jones
Screenplay by Roderick Spencer
Based on “Dancing on the Edge of the Roof” by Sheila Williams
Cinematography by Luc Montpellier
Edited by Cindy Mollo
Music by Kevin Lax
The main character in JUANITA does something that I’ve heard a lot of people wish they could do (and I do know a couple who have actually did so). Disappointed with the grinding rut that her life has become, Juanita Lewiston (Alfre Woodard) leaves behind her job and her family in Columbus, Ohio to hit the road, buying a one-way bus ticket to Montana. It’s not hard to understand why Juanita wants to go on the road to look for adventure. Her nursing job in a hospital is depressing and while she loves her three grown children passionately, they see her as little more than a walking/talking/breathing ATM machine and unpaid babysitter. Realizing that she has horrendously spoiled them she thinks that maybe leaving them on their own will force them to grow up a little. Her romantic life also isn’t anything to brag about. Her husband long ago walked out on her and the kids and she has frequent sexual fantasies about Blair Underwood (Blair Underwood) who is utterly hilarious, blatantly stealing every scene he’s in.
Juanita lands in the town of Paper Moon, Montana which is so small she claims she can’t even find it on “the Google.” The town’s only diner is a French restaurant run by Native Americans. The owner/cook Jess Gardiner (Adam Beach) and Juanita clash over what kind of breakfast she wants as Jess claims he is providing a fine dining experience and Juanita just wants fried eggs and hash browns. The clash ends up with Jess hiring Juanita as breakfast cook and she gradually becomes involved with the lives of the inhabitants of Paper Moon.
I love how Alfre Woodard expresses the depression and despair Juanita realizes infects her soul while at the same time she doesn’t allow it to consume her. But she knows it’s there, she can feel it and as she expresses to her best friend, beauty shop owner Kay-Rita (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) if she doesn’t do something about it, she’ll end up hating the people she loves the most. And while Alfre Woodard is most definitely a mature woman (man alive, is she ever) there’s something in her eyes and body language that makes me feel that she’s very much still in touch with the little girl she once was and she knows how to use that quality to enhance her character in this movie. There are scenes with her trundling down the road with her ridiculously oversized suitcase where she looks for all the world like a ten-year-old running away from home looking for a circus to join.
Adam Beach is an actor who I’ve enjoyed for years and I think it’s a shame that he’s never been able to achieve a level of stardom I think he deserves. He never seems to be acting no matter what role he’s playing and he sells the idea of a Native America who is a master chef of French cuisine with problem at all.
In fact, the entire cast sells their quirky characters with no problem at all. These are characters that stand-out because they’re simple people rooted in honesty. This isn’t a movie about Juanita meeting a bunch of kooky, eccentric nuts while on the road. She goes to another place and meets people who are closer to her in spirit than she would have ever have expected.
The only problem that I have with JUANITA is that I wish it were a mini-series instead of a movie because it’s full of characters I quickly became attached to and wanted to see more of. But that’s not to say it’s not a satisfactory movie. It tells its story effectively and with true warmth and a lot of humor. And above all it’s an excellent showcase of the considerable acting talent of Alfre Woodard. If you’re looking for a great date movie to watch this weekend, I can highly recommend JUANITA.