Queen Latifah is totally awesome but Common has to spend some 70-or-so minutes pretending he doesn’t notice in Just Wright, a comparatively-not-so-bad romantic comedy.
(It might be unfair to both Just Wright and Letters to Juliet that I’m reviewing them in the same week. Just Wright proves that Letters to Juliet doesn’t have to be as awful as it is and Letters to Juliet makes the comfort-food satisfactory Just Wright seem like a real comer in comparison. )
Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) has it together. She has a good, fulfilling job involving physical training with the words “chief of” in her title. She owns her own house — a fixer-upper but, really, what isn’t — and is even able to support a good-for-nothing friend, Morgan (Paula Patton). And she has loving if slightly judgey parents who worry about the one thing she’s missing — a man.
Queen Latifah might not be a size 6 and Leslie Wright might not be a CoverGirl model but she knows how to work with what she’s got and something tells me she’d do all right, date-wise, in the real world. In the movie world, however, she’s always meeting terrific men who think she’s terrific and like hanging out with her but don’t like her in that way. Did I mention her favorite thing to do is go to a Nets game? I think that would get you pretty far on eHarmony, even if you did wear a jersey instead of a tarty dress (as her friend Morgan does) to a basketball game but, again, movie world, so while Morgan leaves the game headed for an afterparty and dreams of becoming Mrs. Professional Basketball Player, Leslie heads home. On the way, she stops for gas and happens to run into her favorite Nets player, Scott McKnight (Common), who can’t find the gas tank on his new car. She shows him, they banter and he invites her to his upcoming birthday party.
Because Leslie is a nice person, she takes Morgan, who is in full battle mode, with her and Morgan, though not particularly original or charming, lands Scott with breathtaking speed and skill and before we can read the “three months later” title card she has moved into his big fancy house and is on her way to becoming part of the alimonyed rich.
But just as McKnight is entering a key stretch of games, he injures his knee. Fearing a too-touchy personal trainer, Morgan hires Leslie to help him heal, but soon she gets impatient waiting to see if all her pretending to care about basketball pays off and Morgan leaves. Leslie is left to heal Scott’s injured knee and, what’s this, maybe his injured heart too?
So, not exactly blowing your mind with a twisty new plot or a triangle of shockingly original characters. But Just Wright benefits from having some likeable actors — Common is one seriously attractive guy, Queen Latifah is likeable and funny even when the lines she’s given are only mildly so, even Patton is not the pure portrait of evil she could have been. Phylicia Rashad shows up like some kind of good fairy godmother to play Scott’s mom. Assorted actual basketball players show up to give charmingly wooden performances. I watched the movie feeling like more could have been done with everything — script, acting, letting the characters be a little more layered and a little less pat — but I was never put off by the choices the movie made. Just Wright stays mostly at a baseline of thoroughly tolerable and occasionally offers moments of sweetness and humor. C+
Rated PG for some suggestive material and brief language. Directed by Sanaa Hamri and writer Michael Elliot, Just Wright is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed by Fox Searchlight. It opens in wide release on Friday, May 14.