Mark Reviews Movies

JUST WRIGHT

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sanaa Hamri

Cast: Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, James Picken's Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier

MPAA Rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 5/14/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 13, 2010

Romances can take themselves seriously and not resort to war and terminal illnesses. Comedies can be enjoyable without having their characters fall down and knock things over, being reduced to harbingers of general chaos.

In a way, Just Wright is a romantic comedy, in that it features a love story, a couple of complications, and a happy ending (not to mention the poor pun of a title), but after a deluge of romantic comedies that have given even the mention of those two words next to each other a bad name, it would be doing the film a great disservice to dub it as such. It is simply a cheerful, enjoyable romance.

Avoiding the usual situational obstacles, screenwriter Michael Elliot plots the setup to the romance as far as it can go and then lets the characters work their way through the rest. It is much easier to invest in characters who aren't tools of a script, and when they have personalities that don't hinge on stereotyped concepts of what characters in material such as this should be like.

There are a few pieces of formula here, but once one realizes that Elliot and director Sanaa Hamri allow the character to exist beyond them, those bits of the familiar go no further than the surface.

For example, there is the heroine. At first glance, Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) seems the typical type to which we've become accustomed: Professional woman in search of a man. She goes on a blind date that progresses nicely, until it's over. He starts spouting the usual lines (just got out of a..., need to take some time..., and you're cool as a...), and she finishes them for him (...relationship, ...for myself, and ...friend). She doesn't begrudge him, doesn't mope around for a while, doesn't endlessly complain to her friend Morgan (Paul Patton) about not finding a good man.

She moves on, as though, yes, it would be nice if she could find a man worth her time who appreciates her but she won't obsess over it if it doesn't happen. She loves the New Jersey Nets and goes to a game. This is the kind of strength and independence in a heroine so many romantic comedies presume to have.

After the game, Leslie meets the team's star player Scott McKnight (Common) at a gas station. He's nice, likes her attitude, and talks with her about jazz, so he invites her to his birthday party.

Morgan wants to meet him, not because of the qualities that Leslie noticed, but because she wants to luxurious life of a basketball wife. As a character, Morgan is either out of place or a subversive jab at the narcissistic, materialistic characters that have begun to populate the romantic comedy world. Considering how she serves as a barrier to Leslie and McKnight coming together (He's attracted to Morgan right away, they start dating, and Leslie, being the actual strong personality she is, is fine with it and moves on) and how her character makes a complete turnaround in a crucial moment near the end, it's easier and more likely to assume the former. Considering how Elliot treats the other two central characters, though, it's nice (and perhaps a little too optimistic) to think there's something less mundane happening with her.

McKnight is injured, can't play, and might lose his contract. Fortunately, Leslie is a physical therapist.

The story progresses as any reasonable person would think it would, but it also doesn't. Leslie and McKnight actually talk about things. She passes on her energy to him, as he slips into feelings of impending failure and the rejection of the woman he thought loved him (Morgan, obviously, leaves). There's a sense of tenderness to this relationship. It lets McKnight open up about his love of music and his hope that he has a father somewhere out there who is proud of him. It allows Leslie to consider a new career path. It culminates in a sweet moment involving a repaired car and a dented door that signifies one's respect for the other.

A few hurdles appear later, as they must, but the characters react honestly to them. Less so is the obligatory licensing that comes when dealing with a professional sports organization. It means cameos by stars who provide nothing to the story or characters and appearances by television sports reporters who offer repetitive backstory to what's already happened on screen. One such instance happens late in the movie, as McKnight appears on a sports talk show and comes to an unnecessary realization. It feels more a case of needing to acknowledge the existence of a major sports network and jamming a dramatic moment into the tie-in.

By this time, though, Just Wright has invested in the characters and endears them to us. Those are more than enough to forgive its necessary sins.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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