One of the things that I wanted to make sure to do in this voyage of 73 Sports Movies in 73 Days was be a little more revealing about my own taste in movies and so-called comedy, because while it’s fun to remember how much most of us loved BASEketball or make fun of people for their nostalgic love of Bring It On, it’s only fair that I also let it be known that I’m just as much of a schmuck as everybody else, and I have terrible taste sometimes, too.
That’s my very humble way of admitting that I don’t hate Juwanna Mann. For those who have never seen the 2002 comedy (I would have guessed 1995 on the year before looking it up), it stars Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. as NBA superstar Jamal Jefferies, who is booted from the league for being an arrogant a-hole because that’s something that happens and decides that the only way he can get back is to pretend that he’s a woman playing in the WNBA.
Again, amazingly, I do not hate this movie.
In lieu of writing a plot synopsis and picking out finer points of this film to discuss, I thought I’d sit down and have an imaginary interview over lunch with Juwanna Mann scribe Bradley Allenstein – who only wrote this and Who’s Your Caddy?, which I started to write up last week before I laughed and said, “F*ck that” – about how he developed this idea and his thoughts when it was actually made by Warner Bros.
Burnsy: Thank you very much for joining me today, Mr. Allenstein, my readers really appreciate your time and input.
Bradley: Oh please, call me Bradley. And what else could I have possibly been doing?
(We both laugh at that remark for four minutes.)
Burnsy: Well, I think the first and most important question regarding Juwanna Mann is how did you come up with the idea to have the best player in the NBA get suspended for being a me-first prick, only to agree to dress in drag and sign with a WNBA team?
Bradley: It wasn’t easy to come up with such an idea, that’s for sure. I was unemployed at the time and living with my sister and her boyfriend. I always knew that I was destined for great things. They wanted me to “get a job” and “pay rent” but they just didn’t understand that I was a struggling artist trying to find my niche.
Burnsy: So how did you determine that your art form was screenwriting?
Bradley: I was playing a game of HORSE with some middle school kids who had hot moms and this one kid, Mikey, who was a real jerk, bet me that if I couldn’t beat them, I had to dress like a girl the next time we played, and I said yes because I could almost dunk. I was this close to the rim – (holds hands a foot apart) – and that was regulation, man!
Anyway, I ended up losing because Mikey cheated and shot with his left hand, when I totally called “No lefties” when we started. I refused to actually dress like a woman, but I thought, “Hey, that’s pretty funny – a man dressing up like a woman to play basketball.”
Over the next few days, I started outlining an idea about a guy who plays basketball but has to dress up as a woman to play. One thing led to another and I eventually had a script for Juwanna Mann.
Burnsy: Did you choose the title yourself?
Bradley: Yeah, do you get it? Juwanna Mann? It’s like, “You wanna man?” Because the character is really a man. I know, it’s a total thinker and a lot of people didn’t get it at first.
Burnsy: No, it’s pretty simple actually. In fact, I’m curious how you thought that a guy could decide to dress up like a woman and simply join the WNBA with a name as silly as “Juwanna Mann” while nobody on Earth would stop and say, “Hey, that woman looks just like Jamal Jeffries with a wig on.”
Bradley: (angered) Because his costume was really good and he acted just like a girl.
Burnsy: Had you ever seen a woman play basketball before you wrote this? Because they don’t look like this. Ever.
Bradley: Um, excuse me, but I think I know what a man dressed as a woman looks like. I wrote the movie about it, thank you very much. Maybe there were a few, very minor inaccuracies here and there, but those were the director’s fault. Not mine.
Burnsy: Fair enough. Let me get back to the main plot. How did you think that a man dressed as a woman with no WNBA history or college background, not to mention a social security number, could just get signed by a team like it was no big thing?
Bradley: Because America was still a place built on trust. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet so people like you weren’t snooping into everyone’s backgrounds like we’re all a bunch of commies.
Burnsy: This movie came out in 2002. 9/11 happened a year prior to it.
Bradley: Look, you may think you’re so smart or whatever, but this film was ahead of its time. If it weren’t for this film, the WNBA would have never even been created.
Burnsy: But the WNBA started in 1997.
Bradley: Oh yeah? Whatever. You’re just jealous because you didn’t think of the idea.
Burnsy: Let’s change gears. One of the reasons that I actually don’t hate this film is because Tommy Davidson was one of the most underrated character actors of the 90s. Did you write the role of Puff Smokey Smoke with him in mind?
Bradley: No. Puff was originally written for Daniel Day Lewis. Then, when he didn’t respond, I rewrote it for Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman and Sir Ian McKellen. Unfortunately, none of them or a few dozen others wanted the part, so we offered it to Tommy. He was good.
Burnsy: Tell me about the women of the film, specifically Vivica Fox and Lil Kim. They were two women at the top of their respective games in the 90s. It must have made you feel good to have that kind of star power.
Bradley: I didn’t want them either. They were signed and I was told to keep rewriting. It was maddening.
Burnsy: What about the film’s star, Miguel A. Nunez? He sort of had that NBA swagger down, but he didn’t really convince me that he knew how to play basketball.
Bradley: Again, the part was originally written for Daniel Day Lewis and then offered to a number of other actors first.
Burnsy: You wrote two parts for Daniel Day Lewis?
Bradley: I wrote every part for Daniel Day Lewis. It’s called a concept piece. I wouldn’t expect you to get it.
Burnsy: So this film, then, actually turned out considerably different than you had originally expected?
Bradley: Screenwriting is a frustrating game. You have this idea that you want to be just yours, but then these guys in suits show up and start changing this and that, and the next thing you know, your artistic effort is just shredded to pieces. (He starts crying.)
Burnsy: I’m sorry, I’m sure that it’s tough.
Bradley: What they did to my script… it’s the reason that I didn’t write anything else for five years until Who’s Your Caddy?…
Burnsy: So when you wrote that, you had embraced the goofball comedy?
Bradley: No. It was supposed to be about a professional golfer who gets amnesia.
Burnsy: I’m sorry, that sounds like it would have been brilliant. I’d like to thank you for your time, and I wish you luck in all of your future endeavors.
Bradley: My pleasure, thank you. I’m going to use the restroom, I’ll be right back.
He never returned and I had to cover the check.