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May 15, 2010
Review - " Just Wright "  -  (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Just Wright
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
Starring: Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad, Pam
Grier and Laz Alonso

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

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

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

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.