Juanita is a new version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The movie knows it and it acknowledges this fact. From the very first minute, it brings the fourth wall and has Juanita narrating her story and slipping into her fantasies. The reason for this is her life is just in a horrible rut. Her grown children are failing in life themselves. She’s annoyed at her job and has to live in this reoccurring fantasy with Blair Underwood to get by. She needs something else, anything else. She hops on a bus after randomly picking Butte, Montana. She meets a feisty lesbian trucker who takes her to a special town that will help conquer her fears and help turn her life around.
Sounds all well and good right? Well, it would if there were more actual characters in it than Juanita. Everyone in the movie exists specifically in relation to how they hinder or help Juanita. She wants to tackle what has happened in her life. It doesn’t really do that. It provides her with easy solutions to her problems. Things just magically happen for her. She meets a nice trucker who knows just the place to help her. She meets a Native American man who just so happens to need her help and she needs his. Her daughter finds her way. We meet a friend that we learn nothing about beforehand and we’re just supposed to take her as a lifelong friend. Fine, I’m okay with this. I can handle it.
I think my issue with how pat all the resolutions tended to be is how interesting the movie started out. Juanita establishes herself as a character with a real interior life. We find out how she copes with her job, how she values her relationships and how things are certainly askew in her life. We learn almost nothing about anyone else. Jess Gardiner, the Native American cook who she eventually falls in love with, we learn he served in Desert Storm and lost friends in combat. He drinks, he has nightmares. You know the whole usual bit exhibited by people haunted by their past. He is the only other person with any sort of interior life. Everyone else are pawns put into place to help Juanita come to her realization.
From a visual standpoint, other than the fantasy sequences this is rather dull. Everything comes off looking very flat. I can imagine that this was necessary for the director Clark Johnson. He has done a lot of television but that’s not accurate. This man was responsible for how The Shield looked and that show was loaded with style. So what happened with this one? Was he hoping the story would suffice? Other than the lapses in time management here and there, the story is fine and easy enough to swallow if you don’t pay any real attention to it. It didn’t work for me.
Okay, there is one thing that was like putting a razor on my nerves. There is a scene. I know but hear me out. This may seem like a pet peeve and honestly, it probably is. This movie takes place in Paper Moon, Montana. Middle of nowhere Montana where the cell reception map says hahahaha nothing here buddy. Juanita is talking via Skype or something like it to her daughter back in Columbus. It is crystal clear. There are no lags. It flows like an unobstructed river. This is just ludicrous. I live on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and every week I talk to my son in Olympia, Washington. It is never clear. There are constant problems with it. This is the biggest fantasy of all time. I refuse to sit back and watch this silliness.
This movie was not made for someone like myself. I find that I can a cynical person. I like movies that might be more depressing to most folks. This was a joyful film to its story’s detriment. It loses the emotion it starts out with a bit. Everything is resolved too easily. If that works for you, fantastic. It didn’t work for me.