Juanita Review: It Is A Blend Of The Bland & The Misbegotten

Juanita(Netflix)

Starring  Alfre Woodard, Adam Beach

Directed  by Carl Johnson

Rating: **(2 stars)

 There  is  something  supremely sad about a meditation on  womanhood and  female empowerment gone awry.

Juanita means well.  It wants us to enter a  Black American woman’s home and  psyche  to  get to know why she thinks her  life as a single mother has  snuffed  out her real self.We saw a far more credible  version of  the  Black American Dream   recently in  If Beale Street  Could Talk.

A few months ago I saw Charlize Theron as a mother going bonkers over  her newly-born baby.Theron’s throbbing  angst and  bursting bosom blew me  away.

Woodard’s attempts to make her  character’s singed existence sing  in protest,  seems highly  misbegotten. Not  her fault entirely. The fey script(adapted  from the novel  Dancing  On The Edge  Of The  Roof) makes Woodard’s  griping mother’s part  over-stuffed with  artistic  and emotional baggage. 

 Juanita talks directly to us , the audience ,  whines and cribs about  being unable to look  after herself while  tending to   three grownup children(one of them being in jail, naturally, have you seen any film about a Black American  family where one  or the  other character is  not  in  jail?).To add “humour”  to the inherently  ennervated  proceedings the plot brings in Blare  Underwood as  himself to serve as  Juanita’s  fantasy man

That Underwood and  not Denzel Washington  or Will Smith  is  this embittered housewife’s fantasy-figure speaks  volumes  about this film’s  budgetry  constraints.When  you make middling budgeted  films your dreams also get cut down to size.

Then it’s  time  for  action.  Juanita takes off in a bus to  a self-pointed  town  on the map to “find myself” as  though he were lying unclaimed on  a lost-and-found shelf . The town where  deboards turns out to have  only one French restaurant  run  by a  man(Adam Beach)  who promptly falls in love with Juanita and they  cook happily ever after.

Or something like that.

Hopefully  their kitchen collaboration would be  more appeatizing  than  what  director  ClarJohnson  serves  up  in this undercooked tale of  a woman unplugged and remixed.

 Juanita is  a work of almost  obsessive mediocrity. It presumes we will swim with the  tide  of  the trite  just  for its hat-tipping wink at female empowerment.

This selfindulgent  stream  of  consciousness where a  home-maker  sets off on  a journey of self-discovery(when a man  deserts  his responsibilities  it’s called betrayal when  a woman does  it it’s  selfdiscovery)  has been bequeathed to  screen women for decades  in Hindi cinema.  Shabana Azmi in  Arth and Smita Patil in Subah were far more convincing and compelling  than Alfre Woodard who struggles to give an emotional relevance  to a plot that  shoots  itself in  the  foot from inception.

One  exhilarating shot of  the heroine standing all all alone in a wide open green space with her  bag in a deserted town  illustrates  the  nullity of  her journey and  also the total inconsequentiality  of a  film trying to find  significance  in  a  situation that’s  built  out of questionable commitment.

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