So many stories of being fed up with circumstances and leaving to change them focus on younger adults and kids. Juanita, out from Netflix this week, instead tells a similar story but from the perspective of the title character – played by Alfre Woodard – a mother and grandmother who is burnt out by the demands of her life and the ungrateful nature of those around her.
Fed up and ready for a change, Juanita gets on a Greyhound bus and winds up in a small Montana town. She thinks it’s just a waypoint to some other destination, but when she starts schooling the staff of a local diner on real cooking and gets involved with the chef there she finds herself beginning to settle down once more, just in a more authentic way.
The wanderlust nature of the story is made clear in the copy “You can’t find yourself if you never get lost.” That appears above a photo of Woodard that’s in front of a map of Montana, communicating that the character she plays is heading on a journey of some kind.
The viewer is thrown for a loop when the first trailer opens with Juanita in the middle of a fantasy involving Blair Underwood. When she’s startled back to reality she’s dealing with her daughter pawning off her granddaughter on her for the evening so the younger one can go out. Frustrated by a life that’s going nowhere she abandons everything and heads to Montana, where she ruffles feathers at a small diner, quickly commandeering the kitchen. Her romance with the chef is an unforeseen complication, but one she won’t let tie her down.
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Netflix acquired the movie in 2017, around the time production began, and it’s apparently been sitting around since. Perhaps the timing of release is Netflix playing off Woodard’s well-regarded turn in Clemency, in which she also stars, appearing at Sundance a couple months ago.
Woodard did limited interviews, at least to date, for the movie, though some of that may simply be the result of the press cycle being dominated by a massive super hero film coming out this week.
It’s a decent little campaign for a movie that is finally being released after a couple years in limbo. Woodard is certainly the main draw here as it’s a story that isn’t too far afield from what we’ve seen before in other films. But the marketing promises to take us on a journey along with Juanita, one that seems pleasantly entertaining even if it isn’t all that surprising.