MISS JUNETEENTH – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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There are plenty of films about parents who want their offspring to fulfill the youthful dreams that they, for one reason or another, never fully achieved — whether it’s Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, August: Osage County or Boyhood. The situation in Miss Juneteenth, however, drags in extra emotional baggage given that the characters live in an underserved Black community where most of the residents are just scrapping by in a worn-down Texas town of Fort Worth.

That is certainly true of Turquoise Jones (a terrific Nicole Beharie, who is the main reason to watch this somewhat predictable and slow-paced drama), who was crowned Miss Juneteenth in 2004 but never used her scholarship prize after giving birth to her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), who is about to turn 15. To the credit of director and writer Channing Godfrey Peoples, you can practically smell the BBQ pulled pork on the grill wafting into the rundown bar where Turquoise works as many shifts as she can.

She and husband Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), who is also Kai’s less-than-reliable father, aren’t a good match for each other but they continue to have a relationship. Also, in the wings is a reliable if staid funeral director who pays Turquoise to do makeup on the corpses. Then there is her mother, a church-going lady, who has a drinking problem and prays that her daughter and grandchild somehow find religion as well. We meet this fascinating character but never truly feel her pain.

But Turquoise is bound and determined to see her beautiful daughter inherit the Miss Juneteenth title – named for the day when slaves were freed in 1865 in the Lone Star State. But Kai is much more into trying out for her high school dance squad than she is in wearing a ball gown and learning which fork at a place setting is for dessert. Of course, it all comes down to the pageant and you can basically guess how that might turn out. Yes, matters get a bit soap-operatic at times but Peoples injects just enough atmosphere on screen to make us feel for these folks and their travails.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Miss Juneteenth is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for June 19, 2020

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.