Just Wright's plot follows the usual rom-com formula, but it's still a rarity. The film was directed by a woman, doesn't talk down to the audience, and features a full-figured African-American actress as the heroine, not the sassy best friend.
Critics complain that the film, which opens today, is as formulaic as they come. Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a physical therapist and die-hard basketball fan who is successful and attractive, yet mysteriously single. Minutes after lamenting this fact, she meets New Jersey Nets star Scott McKnight (Common), who is perfect for her but winds up with her gold-digging childhood friend Morgan (Paula Patton). When Scott is injured, Morgan drops him and Leslie moves into his mansion to provide full-time physical therapy and various romantic shenanigans ensue. The film also features James Pickens Jr. and Pam Grier as Leslie's marriage-obsessed parents and various NBA players and coaches who "give new meaning to the term wooden."
Just Wright certainly isn't blazing new trails for women in film, but critics say Queen Latifah does the most she can with an average script. This may be one of her weaker performances, but at the very least, critics say she proves she's talented enough to "deserve more than a one-size-fits-all romance." Common's acting abilities are "limited," but he has chemistry with Queen Latifah — though it's unclear if they have the right chemistry. While one reviewer praises them for conveying "that their characters actually, you know, like each other," another complains that they seem more like good friends saying, "Leslie and Scott's relationship shift from platonic to romantic is as weird and wrong as watching siblings kiss each other on the mouth." Overall, the film, "doesn't go full-cornball until the last quarter and, along the way, it actually finds ways to make everyone on screen a human being," which compared to recent romantic comedies, is actually quite a feat.
Below, the reviews:
But if you decide not to see this film because it follows a formula, I warn you that you will be buying into the bullshit that romantic comedies cannot be interesting and different. I never felt demeaned or talked down while watching this film. What makes this film so different aside from the fact that it was directed by a woman - Sanaa Hamri (have you listened to my interview with her?) - is that the film stars an African American woman with her name above the title in capital letters who is in her thirties, not a stick figure, is a physical therapist, owns her own home, loves basketball, and is not pining away her nights lamenting over the fact that she doesn't have a man.
The heroine of Just Wright, a formulaic sports romance with the texture of a strawberry smoothie, isn't just any old Hollywood Cinderella in search of Prince Charming. As played by the redoubtable Queen Latifah, this full-figured Cinderella - an unmarried 35-year-old physical therapist and avid New Jersey Nets fan named Leslie Wright - is, in her own self-effacing words, "the perfect homegirl." In the sexually supercharged world of basketball stars and the women who pursue them, homegirl means friend, not lover. The wasp-waisted, bling-encrusted trophy vixen, whom Prince Charming initially chooses over Leslie, is her shallow, conniving childhood friend Morgan (Paula Patton). While Morgan dresses to kill for Nets games, Leslie, uncalculating tomboy and loyal fan that she is, wears a Nets shirt. In a running joke intended to illustrate Leslie's true-blue lack of pretension, she drives a battered old Mustang named Eleanor, whose dent she refuses to fix because it reminds her of a dimple.
I like this film in part because it doesn't go full-cornball until the last quarter and, along the way, it actually finds ways to make everyone on screen a human being. Roles that might've been miserably overstated in any number of other rom-coms, such as the materialistic vamp or the hawklike mother of the Nets star, are allowed some quirk and humanity here. It helps having performers of the caliber of Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier and James Pickens Jr. turn up for supporting roles. You may wish Latifah's character were a little less of a doormat, but she's a shrewd enough performer to let you know, often silently, that she's nobody's doormat, no matter what the script's indicating. Now, is Just Wright too nice for success? Truly, I hope not. The script might've benefited from a scene or two where Latifah's character cuts loose and tells her friend to shove it. But I've been conditioned, like everyone else, to expect such showcase moments from this genre. However modest, the reason Just Wright works is simple: It finds ways to let familiar characters move around inside a familiar premise like living, breathing, likable human beings.
The unsubtle message is that this is a good guy, with a capital G. But, like nearly every other scene, it feels artificial. A key ingredient missing in this chicken-soup-for-romantics sequence, and in the entire movie, is the requisite chemistry between the actors. Queen Latifah made a remarkably natural transition from hip-hop to acting. Such is not the case for rap star Common. Though he looks great on camera, his acting abilities are limited... In the majority of her roles, from Beauty Shop to The Secret Life of Bees, Queen Latifah comes off as wise, confident and funny. But she doesn't seem on her game here. After her first amorous encounter with Scott, she rolls around alone in bed, grinning and whooping, even pumping her fist. This forced scene reminds you what a natural presence she ordinarily has. Even within the most formulaic of genres, this Cinderella tale is uncommonly predictable.
Another movie, not as awful as this one, might one day find better use for the easygoing vibe between Queen Latifah and Common, the stars of Just Wright, a romantic comedy (for the ladies) with basketball and cameoing NBA players in it (for the fellas). That absolutely no chemistry exists between them as love interests is the first of the many flaws in a film that also demands we believe the New Jersey Nets could become Eastern Conference champions... Though no pheromones could ever be secreted in a love triangle this square, watching Leslie and Scott's relationship shift from platonic to romantic is as weird and wrong as watching siblings kiss each other on the mouth.
Hollywood often relegates its most interesting actresses to genre films or supporting roles, and Queen Latifah's been no exception. But she should be a leading lady, and she knows it: That's why she produced Just Wright herself. As it turns out, director Sanaa Hamri depends a little too much on her charismatic star in the hopes that Latifah can elevate average material. And to an impressive degree, she does. But ultimately, this one-of-a-kind woman deserves more than a one-size-fits-all romance.
To put it simply, "Just Wright" is your basic Cinderella story set against a pro basketball backdrop. The essential problem with this bland Queen Latifah romantic comedy is that it's content to keep it simple. There's nothing in the strictly by-the-numbers plotting, ho-hum pacing or stock characterizations that would allow it to ever truly come to life. That it squanders a terrific cast in the process — one that also includes Common, Phylicia Rashad and Pam Grier — makes it all the more disappointing.
Morgan is the movie's most strained invention, a grasping player's-wife wannabe who traps Scott with looks and lies. The part's written as a cartoon and Patton doesn't do much more with it, but maybe that's just to let Leslie seem comparatively well-rounded, if you will.
Except one, and it's a pleasant one. Latifah and Common create something that's all too rare in contemporary romantic comedies, and that's the sense that their characters actually, you know, like each other. The guy's no great thespian (except in comparison to the numerous real players and coaches in the film, all of whom give new meaning to the term wooden). Still, he and his co-star have an on-screen connection that feels easy and unforced, and very, very real. In this overly choreographed movie, their chemistry is a reason to stand up and cheer.