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just wright
not just another romantic comedy
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)
5.19.10
film

Hollywood has been getting the romantic comedy wrong lately. From It Happened One Night all the way to Hitch, it can be, when executed properly, a genuinely entertaining genre. Now, like everything, they just seem to be a means to an end, spelled out in a simple formula:

(script that's been floating around Hollywood for years
+
TV star trying to break into features
+
hunky action star trying to be a romantic lead)

รท

(original scenarios
+
witty dialogue
+
characters we care about)

=

most of this romantic comedy crap we see today


Having said that, the best contemporary romantic comedies aren't necessarily reinventing the wheel. They are just doing the things that we expect from romantic comedies well. Into this fray comes Fox's Searchlight's latest offering, the adequately named Just Wright.

Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a down to earth physical therapist and die-hard New Jersey Nets fan. At 35, she lives with her parents (James Pickens, Jr. and Pam Grier) and her gorgeous, gold-digging godsister Morgan (the excellent Paula Patton). Her daily life is very ordinary and even though she is a fun, moderately attractive woman, she has had no luck in the dating world, as guys often see her as just a "friend." After attending a Nets game, she has a chance meeting with Nets perennial All-Star Scott McKnight (Common) at a gas station, and the latter, charmed by her down home personality, invites her to his star-studded birthday celebration at his mansion.

Leslie brings Morgan, who craftily steals Scott's eye, leading to a whirlwind courtship that makes them the subject of gossip rags all over the country. Leslie handles this mild disappointment the way she does all the others, with a small dose of sadness, but while moving on with her life. (This is no small accomplishment. The fact that she is not obsessed with settling down actually adds to the charm of this film.) Morgan shops till her heart drops, then drops Scott like a hot potato when he blows his knee out in the NBA All-Star game, a injury that he may not recover from in time to re-up his soon-to-be ending contract. Before she leaves, Morgan gives Leslie the chance of a lifetime: the job as Scott's physical therapist. As she pushes him through a rigorous, ultimately successful regimen, a relationship blossoms. Now that Scott's future looks bright again, Morgan returns. Scott faces a pivotal decision: the drop-dead girl of his dreams or the girl that is, well, just right.

Third time feature director Sanaa Hamri (Something New, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2) bathes her stars in the most glamorous glow of any black film since The Best Man while managing events both epic and intimate with appropriate weight. The numerous basketball scenes are decent, especially given that Common is a little short (6'1") and thin to be the dominant NBA guard he is advertised to be (freaks of nature like Allen Iverson notwithstanding). Common has the good looks and charisma to carry his first lead. He expresses well Scott's fearfulness: at the fragility of his career, at following his heart in relationships, at not being as shallow as we expect star athletes to be. Where he struggles as an actor is in the regular moments -- the conversations that aren't life and death -- but the simple is difficult for many performers. He will only improve with experience. Oscar-nominee Latifah has proven in the past to have leading star quality, heading not only the always entertaining "Living Single" (1993-98), but other movies that probably would've been unbearable with anyone else in the lead, like Last Holiday. Why Hollywood has to keep learning this again and again is beyond me.

Overall, Just Wright is a well-done, contemporary look at relationships that is very easy on the eyes and mind. It is one of the better romantic comedies offered by Hollywood in the last decade or so, and, hopefully, a sign of things to come for its relatively young cast and crew.


ABOUT JASON GILMORE

Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

more about jason gilmore

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
5.19.10 @ 7:17a

I miss good romantic comedies. The formula you describe here is exactly what's happened to them.



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