When all you’ve known is Columbus, Ohio, the Rocky Mountains is enough to give anyone a panic attack. Our heroine Juanita treats the terminally ill during the day, tolerates the mentally ill at night, and pulls no punches when telling us all about it.
Juanita is a new Netflix film starring the always-excellent Alfre Woodard as a strong-willed, determined woman, who buys a one-way ticket out of Columbus, leaving her kids, grandkid, and imaginary Blair Underwood, in her rear view. She’s more than through with her half-a-thug son, whole-a-ho daughter, and their shenanigans, and she tells us as much. Literally, I mean. Juanita breaks the fourth wall constantly, in a Ferris Bueller/Zack Morris-kinda way.
Juanita’s got a vivid imagination; using her down time to fantasize about trysts with Blair Underwood (who can’t pass for 30 anymore, but still looks good), and impromptu dance parties aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Spokane, Washington. After a stop in Denver, Colorado, where the sight of the mighty Rocky Mountains almost sent her screaming in the other direction, Juanita soldiers on and ends her journey temporarily in Butt–er, Butte, Montana.
She quickly befriends a lady trucker, who takes one look at Juanita, and knows she’d be better off in the smaller town of Paper Moon. When the chef refuses to deviate from his all-French menu (which has the townspeople staying away in droves), Juanita finds herself behind the grill, and imaginary Blair Underwood is replaced with real-life, flesh and blood Jess Gardiner, the selfsame chef.
Jess and his family, all Blackfeet Native American, are soon taken by Juanita and her no-fox-given attitude. After a medicine man calms Juanita’s anxiety, she tussles with the idea of staying in Montana, or continuing her trip west to dip her feet in the Pacific Ocean. Jess tells her to roam if she must, and come back to him if she wants.
Much like Dumplin‘ before it, Juanita is not wholly original, but it’s funny, endearing, and cute where it needs to be. I was, however, a little put off by how halfway through the film, Juanita just stops talking to the audience. Also, a stylized technique used near the beginning of the film (The way Juanita transitioned from talking to Randy on her cell, to talking to him through the glass at prison) was never followed up by anything similar. It’s like they switched directors in the middle, or something. Still that didn’t take away too much from the snappy dialogue and lush scenery. Give it a view. Three and a half out of five stars.