JUANITA is a little sweetheart indie from 2019, directed by Clark Johnson, written by Roderick M. Spencer, based off Sheila Williams 2002 novel “Dancing on the Edge of the Roof”. Alfre Woodard brings her special glow to the title character. Some fans of the book quibble, as Woodard at 66 was 25 years than the character in the book, but since she doesn’t look more than a blush past 41, those so peeved should find beeswax to mind and throw tomatoes at someone who deserves it. Juanita would tell ’em where to get off.

Describing herself as “a ghetto cliche“, single, her love life consisting of daydreams of actor Blair Underwood, burned out by her job in a care facility and more than fed up with the irresponsibility of her grown children, Juanita splits her rut in Colombus, Ohio and buys a one way ticket to Butte, Montana. A lift from a friendly trucker named ‘Peaches’ (Ashlie Atkinson) takes her a way’s her further out from Butte, to a small hamlet called Paper Moon, populated by laid-back locals who congregate at restaurant run by ‘Jess Gardner’ (Adam Beach), an Blackfoot Indian and Iraq War vet, determined to make his French cooking the cuisine of choice in the area. There may be some healing on the menu.

Some laughs—Alfre/Juanita breaks the 4th Wall to deadpan effect and the bits with Underwood are choice–points to him for sending himself up with charming self-awareness.  Some pain, in the search-for-self-and-place yearning. Some wish-fulfillment, in the array of folks who flesh out the community. The editing is a bit clunky, and the finish, though appropriate, feels rushed (laying ground for a sequel), but characters are fun, the actors charming and there are certainly less-rewarding ways to pass 90 aimless but kind-hearted minutes. Alfre is always a delight.

Shot not in Montana, but Virginia. Sadly, no one came to see this movie: it ranked #300 for the ’19 box office stakes. With Marcus Henderson (Juanita’s oldest son ‘Randy’, doing time in stir), Latanya Richardson-Jackson (Juanita’s best friend ‘Kay-Rita’), Jordan Nia Elizabeth (daughter ‘Bertie’, who Juanita fears is turning ‘ho’), Acoryé White (younger son ‘Rashawn’, who needs to get it together), Tsulan Cooper (Jess’s sister ‘Mignon’) and Elaine Miles (local Sheriff ‘Mountain’).

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