A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Juanita, a dramedy about an African American woman from Columbus, Ohio, who seeks to change her life and find fulfillment in middle age, is based upon the novel Dancing on the Edge of the Roof: A Novel by Sheila Williams. Juanita embarks upon a journey that takes her to the Pacific Northwest and that introduces her to people and events that she never would have met or experienced in her day-to-day life. Modern Native Americans play a significant role in Juanita's quest for both adventure and renewal. The film has lots of comic moments, and Juanita's romantic fantasies (no nudity or explicit sex) are portrayed in interludes with a humorously seductive Blair Underwood, who plays himself, almost always in underwear. There is one brief sequence in which a couple has sex for the first time; it's shot from a distance and in shadows. Viewers can expect swearing and profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "damn," "hell," and one use of the "N" word. Juanita and others smoke cigarettes; legal medical marijuana is used in a hospital setting. People drink adult beverages, and a leading character acknowledges a problem with alcohol and is drunk in one scene. The movie is intended for mature teens and adults and would have little appeal for most kids.
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What's the story?
Juanita Lewiston (Alfre Woodard) needs a break in JUANITA. Her oldest son is in jail, but innocent. Her daughter is an irresponsible mom who depends on Juanita for just about everything. Her youngest son, not yet an adult except in years, is clearly on the wrong path. Nine years working for $12.50 an hour at a medical facility is wearing Juanita down with no end in sight. Only her intricately created fantasy romance with a movie star (Blair Underwood, playing himself) gives her any pleasure at all. Even that fantasy lets her down when Blair, too, asks her for money. It's the final blow to a fragile equilibrium. To her family's astonishment, Juanita takes off, suitcase and map in tow, heading west. When she lands in Paper Moon, Montana, it's a whole new world populated by Native Americans and hearty Westerners. Juanita creates a job for herself in a surprising French restaurant on the outskirts of the small town. It's owned by Jesse (Adam Beach), a veteran who hasn't quite recovered from his stint in the Gulf War. Though only the first stop on Juanita's adventure, it may be as far as she needs to go. What she finds is much more than a passing adventure. It's strange, it's eye-opening, and it may help Juanita recapture the spirit she's so long struggled to find.
Is it any good?
Clark Johnson directs some unique characters, romantic fantasy sequences, and a quirky musical number, but only the magic of Alfre Woodard makes this otherwise thin story come alive. Referring to herself as a "ghetto cliché" (though her wardrobe and home decor belie that description), Woodard's Juanita is spicy, direct, and insightful in a knockout performance that's both easygoing and intense at the same time. In the early scenes, Juanita speaks directly to the audience and quickly establishes a breezy rapport. But that narration gets lost as the story moves forward, and it's missed.
Also on the downside, there are so many characters -- her Columbus family and good friend, the Paper Moon folks, and local Native Americans -- that there's simply not enough time to develop them, particularly the man she falls for. And the story feels random at times (e.g., a lengthy Native American celebration overstays its welcome, and an appearance by someone from back home comes out of nowhere). Still, it's gratifying that Netflix streams a movie that might not have found its way to audiences who like grown-up film with standout performances like Woodard's.
Talk to your kids about ...
Find out the meaning of the film and theater term "breaking the fourth wall." In which scene(s) does the movie use that device? In what ways did it add to your understanding of the main character?
How did the portrayal of modern-day Native Americans in this movie help break worn-out stereotypes and provide a measure of enlightenment and respect for the culture? How does stereotyping perpetuate prejudice?
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