Juwanna Mann

Juwanna Mann. Morgan Creek Productions 2002.

Before watching the movie:

Were there more movies about men posing as women/women posing as men in the early 2000s, or does it just seem that way because that era was a cultural experiment in irreverence and boundary breaking that did not combine well?

What I would expect from a man posing as a woman to play women’s pro basketball is finding that the grandstanding style of men’s pro basketball doesn’t work in the much more technique-focused women’s league, but since he’s the protagonist of an early 2000s comedy, I’m sure his loose cannon showboating will instead be played as suddenly making women’s basketball relevant.

After watching the movie:

Jamal Jeffries is a hothead on the basketball court whose stardom has inflated his ego to the point where one night when his coach throws him out of the game, he has a tantrum that leads to exposing himself on national TV, causing him to be suspended from the UBA. Having lost his income and the constant fawning from groupies, Jamal is desperate to return to the game, but his agent Lorne refuses to try to promote a persona non grata. Jamal then is inspired by a neighborhood children’s game to take a shot at getting into the WUBA. Telling Lorne he should see this great woman player he just saw, he shows up to a Banshees practice dressed as a woman, giving his name as Juwanna, and puts on a great show, which Lorne eagerly parlays into a contract. Jamal, expecting to just show up and be a star like before, has to learn teamwork in order to earn the Banshees’ support, and learns what his attitudes toward women feel like on the other side.

Often, coming into a work with low expectations allows you to have those expectations exceeded. While the commentary on gender roles hasn’t advanced much on what has previously been covered by the likes of Some Like It Hot and Tootsie, it still felt like it genuinely went to those places and had some earnest things to at least drop into the right points of the plot. Jamal as Juwanna gets creeped on by lotharios and sees a close friend cheated on by a man she thought was true to her, and Jamal turns out to actually be a great player once he learns teamwork is more than just expecting the rest of the team to feed him the ball. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a little deeper than man in a dress jokes.

I certainly expected “haha, man in a dress”, “haha, man in women’s locker room”, “haha, man is humiliated by what women deal with regularly” to be the height of this movie’s cringe factor. But this is 2002, and we have new concepts we barely understand that we can use for shock comedy. So there’s a scene where “Juwanna” gets pulled over by a white police officer and has to show Jamal’s license. And Jamal says the reason he looks different is because he “just had the surgery”. The officer asks if it’s “the one where they…” then orders him out of the car and has him turn around before revealing that “I’m about to get it done too!” I try not to spoil jokes or plot twists in these reviews, but there’s nothing plot relevant about that scene, and there’s nothing funny about it in an era where our screens are constantly filled with police brutality and transgender rights are a very visible battle. Nothing about that interaction resembles a closeted trans individual encountering a spiritual sibling, it’s just what some people with the vaguest understanding of the concept found funny. Without that scene, I would consider this movie otherwise a pretty positive one, albeit a little adolescent in its approach to gender roles. However, it’s such a throwaway moment I don’t think it taints the whole movie entirely for me in the way that Cinderfella let me down.

I have no idea if basketball fans would appreciate the basketball played here. It seems entirely tangential to the movie and I really only followed the basic concepts like “learning teamwork” and “made it to the playoffs”. I saw more concrete basketball mechanics in Air Bud and maybe even in Flubber, but the basketball is ultimately just a way into a fish out of water story.

Overall, except for the one low point, this is a pretty good early 2000s comedy that was maybe slightly underappreciated in its time. It’s certainly nothing groundbreaking, and doesn’t deserve much more than what it got, but it’s fine. Mostly.

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