Just Wright

Pic largely succeeds as a handsomely mounted showcase for Queen Latifah.

Leslie Wright - Queen Latifah  Scott McKnight - Common Morgan Alexander - Paula Patton Lloyd Wright - James Pickens Jr. Ella McKnight - Phylicia Rashad Janice Wright - Pam Grier Himself - Dwight Howard Himself - Dwyane Wade

Painting by numbers often gets a bad rap: While it takes little originality to fill in the romantic-comedy blanks, even a simple, competent job can sometimes feel like a breath of fresh air. Conventional in every way save for the coupling at its center, “Just Wright” largely succeeds as a handsomely mounted showcase for Queen Latifah, as well as some well-shot basketball footage, even if its guilelessly upright characters can often steer it toward blandness. Fox Searchlight release should do just fine as early summer counterprogramming.

Even in the femme-skewing world of romantic comedy, one is still far more likely to see a physically perfect woman opt for a chubby, schlubby older man than vice versa, and “Just Wright” deserves some plaudits for reversing the trend. Though Latifah can hardly be described as schlubby here — in fact, she looks great in an assortment of sensible dresses, and seems to be enjoying the chance to play a more vulnerable, outwardly feminine role than usual. 

A physical therapist often seen driving an ancient Mustang, Leslie Wright (Latifah) is an Everywoman Cinderella, forever stuck in the “friend zone” with potential dates, thanks in part to the constant presence of her model-esque, gold-digging best friend, Morgan (Paula Patton). 

Heading home after watching her beloved New Jersey Nets (who, requiring the pic’s biggest suspension of disbelief, are a championship-bound team), Leslie runs into star player Scott McKnight (Common) at a gas station, where she helps him find the gas tank on his gleaming new SUV. In addition to his good looks, wealth and celebrity, Scott is also a perfect gentleman — we know this because at least three characters, including Scott himself, describe him in exactly those terms — and rewards Leslie’s help with an invite to a birthday party at his palatial estate.

Despite some initial sparks between player and fan, Scott opts for the prettier Morgan as soon as she enters the picture. The two are headed straight for wedding bells until a serious knee injury throws Scott’s playing career off-track, and Leslie moves into his pad for full-time rehabilitative duty. Though a glance at the film’s poster (as well as common sense) will give away the final romantic destination for these two, the film takes its time allowing Scott and Leslie’s relationship to build, perhaps recognizing that its unlikeliness requires a bit more care than the usual narrative shortcuts.

While the two protagonists are certainly pleasant company (they both love Joni Mitchell! And homemade desserts!), screenwriter Michael Elliot’s unwillingness to allow them even the slightest of flaws becomes a bit wearying; in this film’s ethical universe, even the “wicked stepsister” is never allowed to display behavior any worse than slight cunning.

Bearing unexpected resemblance to a slimmed-down Carlos Boozer whenever he dons a basketball jersey, Common is a perfectly likable presence on film, but he’s not quite ready to handle the rigors of a leading role, however light on emotional heavy-lifting this one may be. Phylicia Rashad and Pam Grier make the most of their exposition-heavy roles, and pro ballers Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade are both quite good in small parts (playing themselves, but still).

Veteran musicvid director Sanaa Hamri shows the expected skill with the pic’s kinetic basketball footage and lavish parties, though less so in its quieter moments, which sometimes seem to lack the proper pacing.

Technical contributions are all slick and effective, and special care seems to have been paid to the many Jersey locations, NBA licenses and luxury automobiles on display.

Popular on Variety

Just Wright

Production: A Fox Searchlight release of a Flavor Unit/Debra Martin Chase production. Produced by Chase, Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere. Co-producers, M. Blair Breard, Gaylyn Fraiche, Jarrod Moses. Directed by Sanaa Hamri. Screenplay, Michael Elliot.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Terry Stacey; editor, Melissa Kent; music, Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman; music supervisor, Julia Michels; production designer, Nicholas Lundy; art director, Robert Pyzocha; set decorator, Susan Kaufman; costume designer, David Robinson; sound (Dolby), Damian Elias Canelos; sound designer, Ai-ling Lee; supervising sound editors, Terry Rodman, Christopher S. Aud; re-recording mixers, Gregory H. Watkins, J. Stanley Johnston; visual effects supervisors, Henrik Fett, Dan Schrecker; assistant director, Christo Morse; second unit director, Mark Robert Ellis; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Los Angeles, May 4, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: Leslie Wright - Queen Latifah  Scott McKnight - Common Morgan Alexander - Paula Patton Lloyd Wright - James Pickens Jr. Ella McKnight - Phylicia Rashad Janice Wright - Pam Grier Himself - Dwight Howard Himself - Dwyane Wade

More Film

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content