This film’s heroine has a storyline that serves almost as a dying wish for many women, but it doesn’t have to be.
The beginning of Juanita’s story is one I’ve heard and seen many times before, except in reality the ending to many women’s stories, unlike Juanita’s, doesn’t always play out so happily, although they should.
To clarify things up a bit, the beginning of the film starts you off in the middle of Juanita’s story. Played by the great Alfre Woodard, Juanita is a wisecracking, feisty matriarch whose life consists of working at a clinic while dealing with her two overly dependent adult children, a grandchild, and another adult child who’s incarcerated (he’s actually the good one).
Through Juanita, I’m made more aware of the current narrative of my mother, and a lot of other mothers I’m sure, aunts, cousins, and maybe even some friends, but most importantly, I’m now tuned into the untold, inner worlds of self-sacrificing black women.
Being the backbones of our community, black women are notoriously known for their self-sacrificing ways. We know them to care for us, cook for us, cloth us, help fix our problems, cry with us, and nurse us when needed, but what do they want? When are their needs met and satisfied, and just how?
Well for Juanita, all she wants is a fresh new start, and she discovers that the time for that is NOW and a trip to just about anywhere new will do.
Traveling on a whim, she catches a bus ride to the wide-open mountain ranges of Butte, after randomly choosing it in what seemed like an act of fate.
There, she runs into the rugged Peaches, a female truck driver, who saves her from an unfriendly part of Montana and delivers her to the beautifully quaint town of Paper Moon.
She’s dropped her off at Chez Paper Moon, a French-style inspired restaurant, where she meets owner and chef Jess Gardner, a native American man who challenges her to cook breakfast at his restaurant for a week after a confrontational Juanita argues that his breakfast style needs some sprucing up.
Juanita meets her match in chef Gardner.
Aside from both being witty and strong-willed, they also suffer from the weight of caring for others on their shoulders. As the story unfolds, they’re able to heal the wounds this has cause by allowing the other in: Juanita helps Jess to stop blaming himself for the death of his friend, Eddie, and on an outing to a Native American reservation, Juanita is able to open up about her conflicting emotions of missing her children but not feeling like a good enough mother and Jess comforts her by assuring her that she deserves to put herself first.
They fall in love (obviously), and what I love most about this movie is that Juanita does not allow her love for Jess to stop her from continuing on with her journey. Sometime in the beginning, one of the first things Peaches says to Juanita is that she can tell Butte wasn’t the last place on her trip, and she was right!
Speaking of love, let me just mention Blair Underwood’s role in this movie and how clever it was. Yes, Blair Fine-Ass Underwood is in this film and ironically appears as himself.
He shows up sporadically throughout the movie as Juanita’s fantasy lover. In the dreadfulness of her life, Blair is her beacon. And yet, as the movie continues, each time he appears, he says or does something less appealing to Juanita.
I like to believe that as she ventures out on her own and is molded by her experiences, her need to escape to her fantasy lover is weakened.
The same is true for reality as well. Ain’t no point in dreaming that same old dream once real life becomes better.
Now back to the heartbroken Jess. At this point in the film, he begs Juanita to stay with him in Paper Moon, even renames his restaurant “JJ” to symbolize their unison and his love for her, yet in deciding to stay true to her newfound appreciation for herself, she sticks to her soul-searching quest and reaches the West coast to see the ocean.
Jess took Juanita leaving pretty hard, which also touched my heart, but he loved her enough to let her know that he’ll be waiting for her. Tell me that doesn’t make you want to cry?!?! And I thought good romantic scenes in films was a dying art.
But now this brings me back to the beginning of this post, when I mentioned how what Juanita did shouldn’t have to be something that’s #10 on your list of 10 things-to-do-before-I-die bucket list. It also doesn’t deserve answers like, “I wish I can do this, but I have so much shit going on right now that I can’t”.
The message the film conveys is simple: LET GO AND LET LIFE!
If you really feel like you’re at the end of your rope, that depression is looming right behind you like a shadow, then let go of that stressful job, quit holding onto people and things (they’re fine and will manage without you), drop the guilt and limitations you have for yourself and live life!
Everyone’s story is different, but we all deserve our own slice of a healthy peace of mind and happiness. I’ll definitely be watching this tear-jerker again with my Mom in tow to remind her that her happiness comes first.
I suggest if you love the women who take care of you in your life, then you do the same.