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Queen Latifah rules supreme in humdrum “Just Wright”

Queen Latifah dominates every scene in "Just Wright" (sorry, Common).

There’s not one woman — or man, for that matter — that I know who would not benefit enormously from taking just one class at the Queen Latifah School of Self-Confidence. Try to remember one time she’s been onscreen and the camera didn’t fall buttocks-over-teacups in love with her. I can’t. In every film, Queen Latifah’s the strong, self-possessed woman who holds her head high. Her energy and charisma fill up each frame. There’s an almost regal grace about her that proves irresistible.

The downside of this radiance is that her costars pale by comparison and the movies she stars in aren’t half as good as she is. Look to Sanaa Hamri’s dullish, recycled romantic comedy “Just Wright” as a shining example of this problem, known henceforth as the Queen Latifah Syndrome. “Just Wright” feels like a cobbling together of genre cliches, from the Meet-Cute (at a gas station!) to the Initial Spark and headlong into the Dramatic Turn of Events (i.e., the Competition/Other Woman). All the necessary parts are there — kind of like the game “Operation” the minute it’s opened — so “Just Wright” is perfectly serviceable. There’s a formula, time-tested and general audience-approved, and Hamri follows it to the letter.  That said, there’s nothing inventive or even particularly interesting about “Just Wright.” There are a handful of few scenes where it’s a wonder someone with a poster reading “laugh here” doesn’t pop in front of the camera. Reinvention of tiramisu isn’t required, but is a smattering of ingenuity too much to hope for?

Enter Queen Latifah, stage right. With a by-the-numbers film like this, you have to wonder what the conversation between director and casting director was like. My calculated guess is that both saw “Last Holiday” and knew an actress with a Midas touch when they saw one. That’s why she dominates the movie poster. Hamri hitches all hopes to Latifah’s talent, and “Just Wright” is better for that. Latifah is Leslie Wright, a physical therapist and New York Nets fanatic. When the film opens, she’s anticipating a blind date. (Don’t worry — the one cliche Hamri does not pounce on is the Bad Blind Date Montage.) Looking stunning, she’s a 10+: witty, smart, easygoing, the kind of dinner date that puts you at ease … which translates to she’s about to get The “F-word” Speech. Latifah handles the moment with the elegance of a woman who goes into every date expecting “the man who gets you will be lucky.” Leslie has learned not to let the hurt register, but not show on her face. It doesn’t help that her mother (Pam Grier) tries to convince Leslie she’ll only bag a man by dolling up the way Leslie’s godsister, Morgan (Paula Patton), does. “You catch more flies with mini-skirts and FMPs” and all that.

Readers, provided you’ve seen romantic comedies before you already know where “Just Wright” is headed. Morgan aspires to be an NBA trophy wife, and once she gets NBA All-star player Scott McKnight (Common, wooden but not unredeemably awful) in her crosshairs he’s a goner. Even though Leslie saw him first and really connected with him, Morgan ends up with the skating rink on her finger. Then comes a knee injury severe enough to end Scott’s NBA career unless Leslie can work him back to his A game. This isn’t Queen Latifah’s first rodeo, either, and she understands that it takes a lot of charm to hold up a movie. She generates any sizzle her scenes with Common have — though the pair has a modicum of chemistry — and does her best to make Leslie a three-dimensional character, a warm, kind person who is, above all else, real. None of her costars manage quite as well, though Scott is written as a Joni Mitchell-loving pianist and Patton’s Morgan has a few scattered moments of humanity. James Pickens Jr. continues to be a very subtle actor deserving of deeper parts than this.

No wild twists here: “Just Wright” ends up exactly where we expected and took exactly the route we predicted — didn’t stray from the sidewalk once. But because of the unstoppable Latifah, it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.

Grade: C

12 Responses

  1. I find Latifah likeable enough, but she doesn’t buy my ticket. Romance and sports are just two irredeemably boring subjects to me.

  2. It’s a strange one. I think for the very same reasons you feel Queen Latifah lights up every film she’s in are the same reasons I can’t stand the woman. She’s over confident in a way that says: “I know I’m really funny” but she isn’t. She’s also the same person in every film she’s in – cocky, knowing and over the top.

    • I see the confidence but I wouldn’t call it cockiness. Still, I say there aren’t enough plus-size women out there who find themselves in the ballpark of “cocky,” so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me so much.

      • Yeah, there is a shortage of ‘plus-sized’ women getting good roles (and unfortunately those that do are usually type-cast or used for comedy jibes). Queen Latifah has done well – but anyone using the name ‘Queen’ is seemingly setting far to high standards for themselves.

  3. The film looked really cheesy, but good for Queen Laitfah.

  4. I like Queen Latifah a lot but almost never want to see her movies because they always look so lame. Your review is pretty much what I expected Just Wright to be. It’s too bad, because in the realm of rom-com actresses she is certainly a different type of talent, but I feel like no one has quite figured out where to place her. It happens to a lot of comedic actresses, I suppose.

    • I feel the same way about Penelope Cruz — until Woody Allen and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” I didn’t think an American director existed who knew how to handle her. She kept getting cast as eye candy (“All the Pretty Horses,” “Woman on Top”) and no one could see she was funny and a little nutty in addition to being pretty.

  5. great. Queen Latifah is still making movies.

  6. A good, fair review. I was surprised at the lack of sexual chemistry between Queen Latifah and Common – they look like great friends on screen, but when they kiss it felt forced.

    I found the basketball sequences to be a chore, especially when the script asked Latifah to trash talk through them. Excruciating to watch, and even though she’s a charismatic presence no one could pull off such clumsy dialogue.

  7. We love Latifah so much, we just wish she’d pick better movies. Chicago was her shining moment.

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