Bland, predictable and totally disposable. Juanita covers familiar ground just about competently but offers nothing that you haven’t seen before. Not quite bad enough to be interesting.
Bad films used to be made by committees made up of marketing managers trying to shoehorn in as many ill-conceived tropes they could into their films so that they would appeal to as wide an audience as they could. Today, those films are developed by Netflix’s data centre. They know what we are watching, and when, and they can develop original productions to be as broad and bad as they want but give them just enough that they fit the algorithm and make their way into your watchlist. Juanita is one of those films.
Juanita is a middle-aged mother of 3. She has a single mother for a daughter, one son on the cusp of life as a gangster and another son already in jail. She has a job that is unfulfilling, and she is bored. It is fair to say that life has been something of a disappointment to Juanita; such a disappointment that even in her fantasies with Blair Underwood she gets let down. With nothing to lose, she takes off on the road; of course along the way she finds happiness and predictably, love. There is nothing you have not seen here before done better by Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or How Stella Got Her Groove Back or any number of other more accomplished films.
The title role goes to Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Captain America: Civil War); and she does a pretty good job at giving some depth to Juanita in spite of a very poor script. In the early parts of the film she is often required to address the audience by speaking directly to camera, so she can explain how unsatisfying her life is (presumably the writers did not give the audience the credit of assuming we’d be able to work it out for ourselves?) but it is during the latter stages of the film when you get to see Juanita being happy she is at her best.
The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the cast. To be fair, it is unclear whether it is the performances that are to blame or if it is simply just average actors struggling against the weight of the awful script. The characters are all two dimensional and aside from Juanita they all more or less end the film as the same people they were at the start.
Despite the many limitations the film follows a predictable path and does so with unspectacular competence. The plot is easy to follow, the central romance is believable and even at times quite sweet. Juanita may be mediocre, but you could easily have it on in the background whilst you do something more interesting, like ironing or looking hopelessly at your phone.
Watching a really bad film can often be a glorious experience; there is usually a point where the film crosses a threshold and you realize beyond doubt that you are in fact watching a truly bad film. At this point, you can relax into and even revel in the experience. It is a shame then, that Juanita is just on the wrong side of this threshold. It’s not a really bad film, just an everyday bad one and it is somehow worse off for it.
Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.