Just Wright¸ starring Queen Latifah and Common and directed by Sanaa Hamri, will be placed by many in the formulaic romantic comedy genre, though it’s more of a pleasant date-night dramedy with some chuckles to be had. The two stars measure up in a vehicle that’s at times tender and sweet, and doesn’t play too heavy on heartstrings.
Latifah plays Leslie Wright, a New Jersey-based physical therapist who lives with her parents (James Pickens, Jr. and Pam Grier) and her God-sister Morgan (Paula Patton), a Power of Now-reading hot chick who dreams of marrying an NBA hoopster to lead a wealthy lifestyle.
Leslie, rather than seeing ballers as a means to happiness, simply enjoys the game of basketball, and loves her New Jersey Nets. After a home game, Leslie by happenstance runs into team star Scott McKnight (Common) at a gas station. Upon their first meeting, it’s revealed she’s a good-natured woman with a bright smile who knows her cars and basketball history, while he’s a gentleman who has a thing for charity work, Joni Mitchell and jazz. Scott, taken aback by Leslie, invites her to his upcoming birthday party; Morgan comes along, looking like a dove, scheming like a viper, still somehow maintaining her earnestness, and impresses Scott. The two become an item with Leslie as the supportive friend.
WATCH THIS ORIGINAL INTERVIEW WITH RAPPER/ACTOR COMMON:
Leslie’s constant smiling and willingness to self-sacrifice may not stem from the best place when one considers her relationship with her mother. It’s implied that Latifah’s character is more like her dad, who supports whatever she does, and that much of her romantic confusion comes from her mom, who wants Leslie to find a man yet sees Morgan as more befitting of traditional feminine gifts. And the men Leslie meets seem to follow the same pattern. Only when Scott gets injured and Leslie is bought on as his therapist is he better able to see her and return some of the energy she gives.
Wright’s script suffers slightly from over-familiar tropes: the misguided mom, the idea of finding someone you can’t live without, and an actualized woman who enjoys much of her life still being seen as less than because she doesn’t have a man (while the same rule doesn’t seem to apply to the dude).
Still, refreshing moments are captured as well. Latifah is likable, believable and solid, and much credit goes to Common’s performance, a centerpiece of the movie. He strips away any self-consciousness to imbue his character with sensitivity, swag, fear and confidence depending on the demands of the scene. And Patton’s Morgan character, rather than coming off as a merciless gold-digger, is portrayed as a lost-soul looker trying to find her way to a place of power.
Haamri and Terry Stacey, director of photography, play with mood and lighting to give Just Wright several art-house moments and highlight the physical beauty of the performers. These moments give the flick its own elegance and charm, a pleasant experience for weekend moviegoers looking for warmth in the dark.