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Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Retro Review: Juwanna Mann (2002)

Juwanna Man
Cast: Miguel A. Nunez Jr, Vivica A. Fox, Kevin Pollak, Tommy Davidson, Kim Wayans, Ginuwine, Jenifer Lewis, Lil' Kim
Genre: Romantic Comedy Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $13 million

Plot: A basketball star is booted out of the NBA when his on-court antics go too far, so he poses as a woman and joins the WUBA

'Juwanna Piece Of This?'

Man, who has had no such luck, dresses up as a woman of the opposite sex and with that, good things happen to him, whilst at the same time, trying to conceal his identity to the people he deceives. Juwanna Mann is another one of those films that joins Mrs Doubtfire, Some Like It Hot, Tootsie in the same league, and is - if not as entertaining as those flicks. 

If you have heard of and seen comedies, Tootsie or Mrs Doubtfire, or TV-wise, Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks, then this has pretty much the same premise as the man in drag act. Mix that in with basketball/sports and this is what Juwanna Mann is as a film. 

Jamal Jefferies is pretty full of himself as the pampered, hotshot and rich professional basketball player applying his trade in a fictitious basketball league that is equivalent to the NBA. In fact, he is so taken by his success, his ego gets the better of him as he thinks he is God's gift to basketball. His antics, however, reach a breaking point when he moons at the crowd during a game and the stunt gets him thrown out of the league. Jeffries not only loses his contract, houses and cars, but no other team would also take him on and his girlfriend has ditched him. 

Desperate to play professionally again, he resorts to coming up with the craziest of all schemes with the help of his aunt played by Jenifer Lewis: he puts on a fake wig, straps on a bra, shaves his underarms, legs, dabs on mascara and enters the woman's pro basketball league under the guise of Juwanna Mann for the Banshees. With that, things go so well for him, everything he touches or does goes right for him and he even develops feelings for the team captain, Michelle, who makes him see the errors of his ways as Juwanna and that he gets a wake up call to change for the better and that success isn't solely dependant on one person. 

Miguel A. Nunez Jr was all right actually, but when he tried to be a funny drag person/she-male, he wasn't quite as convincing. When as Jamal or Juwanna he shows his nicer and softer side, in contrast, that worked for me moreso than the comedy side. The comedy and humour were not bad, but it wasn't too outrageous or laugh-out-loud funny, or chuckle-worthy that I'd expected with a premise as this. 

Plus, the Nunez and A. Fox romance and chemistry, doesn't really heat up and the film doesn't really develop that transition well enough; because of that, I didn't buy it in the same way as with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange in Tootsie

Jesse Vaughn, who had a hand in one season of In Living Color, makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann and it also includes the show's stars, Kim Wayans and Tommy Davidson and so it does echo some of the sketch show's flavour. Wayans convinces as the butch lesbian player and Davidson is the film's comic relief as Puff Smokey Smoke with gold teeth, who has a thing for Juwanna (and who is unaware that she's a he). He's like the film version of rapper, Flava Flav; R&B singer, Ginuwine plays Romeo, Vivica's Michelle's boyfriend, who turns out isn't being faithful to his girl. 

Annie Corley (Monster)
 has a task as the coach of the Banshees, whereas Vivica A. Fox is equally competent as Michelle; as a whole, Juwanna Mann is a nice, entertaining sports romantic comedy that excels in the basketball action and whilst the romance between Jamal and Michelle could have used a bit more work and the ending ought to have been better, this was still enjoyable stuff that is boosted by a good cast.

As gender- bender comedies go, this one is actually sufficient and as the story went on, the more I got into the film. Of course, the idea that men are idiots, unlikeable douchebags to women until they fall in love is far-fetched. But where a man dresses up as a woman it is assumed to be hilarious and the comedy comes from his experience as a female that is supposed to be funny. Just as a man who falls for a man in a dress and not knowing that it is a he (much like in Tootsie, To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar!, perhaps, and to a lesser extent, Mrs Doubtfire).

Juwanna Mann could have also done with a bit more wit, better slapstick to give it a boost and not be so apparently obvious, which are just three of its downfalls. But I much prefer this over something like White Chicks or the Big Momma's House efforts, which really ratchets up the comedy to even tackier levels. 

Final Verdict:

It's the type of comedy that is not to be taken too seriously, but it is also one that didn't leave me feeling cold or with a bad taste in my mouth. Yet is also not very demanding and whilst it might have worked better as an R-rated comedy, as some aspects are pared down to attain a PG rating, thanks to the casting it was still relatively enjoyable and entertaining. 

The film wasn't well received and it got a bit of a mauling, but in viewing it, there was a good amount that I enjoyed and liked that the good outweighed some of its flaws. It's not a perfect comedy and it's not the best drag comedy; nonetheless, I still liked this one. 

It's a lesser- known sleeper that will be of interest to fans of Mrs Doubtfire and Tootsie and so if you enjoyed those types of movies, Juwanna Mann might be of interest to you as well. 


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