I noticed something strange but wonderful about the characters in Just Wright early on. It happens during the film's opening scene when the lead character, Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is on a blind date with another man. What I noticed is that both of them were having an actual conversation, and behaving like most adults would in the situation. Why was this surprising to me? If you've seen some of the romantic comedies that have been released the past few months (The Back Up Plan, Our Family Wedding), you would know why. In a genre that usually favors Idiot Plots and characters that are as dumb as a box of instant potatoes, hearing adult conversation is a rare thing.
Yes, the movie does not stray far from the romantic comedy formula. The plot is so predictable you could set your watch by it. And the characters do make decisions for the convenience of the plot, especially in the third act. But the characters and the performances here are a step above what we usually get. Queen Latifah is a wonderful actress who has proven herself many times, but seldom gets lead roles, as she doesn't quite fit the mold of a Hollywood starlet. She's wonderful here as Leslie, a physical therapist who is looking for love, but unlike a lot of heroines in romantic comedies, is not obsessed with finding it. She's an intelligent and likable woman who lives with her colorful and caring parents, and her best friend Morgan (Paula Patton), who is determined to live the good life by marrying a professional basketball star. Leslie is content with her life, but wouldn't mind finding a man who sees her as more than just a "good friend". She gets that chance when she has a "meet cute" with Scott McKnight (rap artist Common) at a gas station.
Scott is a star player on Leslie's favorite basketball team, the New Jersey Nets. They instantly hit it off, and he invites her to his lavish birthday party the coming weekend. Leslie arrives, but makes the mistake of bringing Morgan along, who instantly steals Scott's attention. He becomes instantly smitten with her, and before long, Morgan is living Leslie's dream. I had some trouble believing this plot point, as Leslie is infinitely more charming and likable than the obviously shallow Morgan. Scott is portrayed as a fairly smart and likable guy, and I had a hard time buying that he would take the shallow girl over the obviously better Leslie. But, he does, and even proposes to her. Leslie's used to this happening, and pretends to be happy for the sake of both of her friends. But then Scott suffers a serious knee injury during a game that could derail his career. Leslie is assigned to be his personal live-in physical therapist to help him recover. There's an obvious connection during their time together, and Scott slowly begins to realize what we figured out the moment they first met back at the gas station.
Yes, we know everything that's going to happen before the characters do. We're not surprised when Morgan walks out on Scott, when it looks like his career might be over because of the injury, and he won't be able to continue the lavish lifestyle she wants. We're also not surprised that she tries to win him back when things start looking up for him again. Just Wright mires itself in moldy plot cliches, but it at least has the sense to give us some characters we can care about. Even Morgan is not entirely the stereotyped gold digger she might have come across in a lesser film, but is rather a flawed person who does know to do the right thing when the time eventually comes. As for Leslie and Scott, they're written as people who talk about real things, and don't embarrass themselves for the sake of an easy gag. They're charming, smart, and we sort of wish they were placed in a plot that was better suited to them. But, they both carry the film well enough.
In a nice change of pace while watching a romantic comedy, I actually did want to see the lead characters get together by the end of the movie. Queen Latifah and Common are able to create characters that we probably wouldn't mind meeting in real life, and have great chemistry together. This is no surprise for Latifah, and she shown just how charismatic she can be time and time again. But I was really impressed by Common, who brings real warmth and sensitivity without a hint of falseness in his performance. The character he plays here is a big change from the one he played just last month, where he played a crooked cop chasing after Steve Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night. He's shown some range in these two films, and I hope he gets to show even more in any future projects he takes.
While we probably didn't need another movie like Just Wright, I'm recommending it on the strength of the main characters and the performances behind them. I cared about them a lot more than I expected to, and ended up caring about what happened to them in the process. It's something like that which allows an ancient formula like this to work. This is far from a great movie, but it has a sweet laid-back tone that won me over.
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