DVD Release Date: September 14, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: May 14, 2010
Rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)
Run Time: 108 min.
Director: Sanaa Hamri
Cast: Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, James Pickens Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier
The biggest mistake someone could make after looking at the poster or watching previews for Just Wright would be to decide that it's not for them. Or, more specifically, that it's tailored strictly to a minority audience. Many films with all African-American casts are, but this one is different. And better.
Better not just than many films of its sub-genre, but better (even if only in subtle rather than innovative ways) than what has become the low standard of most contemporary romantic movies across the board. Although there are many big budget special-effect blockbusters to tempt you otherwise, Just Wright is actually a better date night choice than them all.
Always the "best friend" but never "the one", Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah, The Secret Life of Bees) goes from one date to the next able to recite verbatim the excuses guys come up with to not commit. Her biggest "problem" is that she's comfortable being herself. Men seem to want something a little more flashy—like Leslie's roommate Morgan (Paula Patton, Precious), an attractive flirt whose mission is to bag an NBA superstar.
Morgan's dream is to live the life of a rich player's wife. Leslie's desire is simpler: to find someone who loves her for "her", and love him back in the same way. Both of these approaches are put to the test when Leslie—in a convenient meet-cute setup—just happens to run into New Jersey Nets point guard Scott McKnight (rapper/actor Common) at a gas station. A spark occurs, McKnight invites Leslie to a big party he's throwing, and Morgan tags along to cast her net over the sea of NBA players who will be there.
As you can tell, there's nothing particularly unique to this premise, nor is there to the overall formula. The outcome is never really in question, the construct—simple jersey girl meets sexy superstar—is a fantasy (albeit set in the real world), and yet the effort is surprisingly fresh. Believable obstacles emerge early on, they complicate matters emotionally and relationally, and so the barrier that keeps these two people apart remains credible rather than being a lazy, forced contrivance for the sake of plot.
Still, it's unfair to demand that a light romance keep us in suspense about where it's going—and indeed this effort never shirks the air of inevitability—so it's a pleasant surprise when one occasionally has us guessing about how it's going to get there. It takes a few more dramatic turns than expected and, subsequently, becomes more interesting than expected. Yet for as much as Michael Elliot's screenplay is to be commended for unfolding in gradual rather than broad strokes, it's the two leads that deserve the credit for keeping this high concept grounded in authenticity (if not reality).
Latifah's Leslie doesn't mope around in depressive angst, and Common's McKnight isn't some arrogant hot shot. She's openly charming and happy, he's sincerely down-to-earth, and each individually exudes a natural charisma that jointly makes for an appealing (and convincing) chemistry. They are truly sweet together. That Common can actually play the sport he's supposed to be the superstar of adds significantly to his all-around solid leading turn.
And they're both genuinely real. Yes, they are to an extent the best versions of these characters, but not without flaws and certainly not idealized archetypes. Other supporting characters are more thinly drawn, expectedly, serving more as cogs in the plot machine than plausible living/breathing people, but not to the film's detriment. Again, solid perfs buoy these tangential roles, especially James Pickens Jr. (Grey's Anatomy) as Leslie's supportive father. The tenderness he shows and that they share makes me wish the film had made time for a few deeper moments between these characters.
Along with possibly misjudging this movie as strictly for a limited demographic, it'd also be unfair to define Just Wright as a romantic "comedy"—and that's to its credit. Yes, Sanaa Hamri's direction allows the film to flow easily with a light and entertaining touch, but this isn't a movie going for laughs. More earnestly, it's going for heart.
So many romances try way too hard, contorting themselves in all kinds of ridiculous ways as they strain for high comedy and cosmic romance. Just Wright is more laid back, effortlessly confident, playful, and respects our intelligence even as it asks us to suspend disbelief. The soundtrack's occasional detours into jazz add an even more alluring ease to the atmosphere, allowing musicians Latifah and Common—whose characters share a deep love for the genre—to literally make beautiful music together.
Perhaps most miraculously, this immensely satisfying PG-rated affair is focused on emotion rather than seduction, on clever wit rather than sexual sass or risqué double-entendres. Even with a couple of mild profanities and the inference of sex considered, this is as clean as modern movies get without ever feeling prudish or antiquated.
Nothing in Just Wright is distinctively exceptional or original, and it's about as safe a flick as you'll find. But it's all so beautifully rendered, and that's its appeal. You know, a movie that's named Just Wright virtually begs a movie critic to turn snarky and tell you how wrong it all is—but I can't, because it never is. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a title more perfect.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Champagne and wine consumed at meals; no drunkeneness.
- Language/Profanity: One use of the "a" word and "s" word each.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Some kissing. A sexy (though professional) massage therapist gives a massage. Two people lying in bed under the covers. No sexual activity depicted, but sex is inferred to have happened.
- Violence: None.
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla. He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture.
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