Imagine a romantic comedy that uses pretty much all of the genre's cliched elements-- the broadly caricatured characters, the implausible meet-cute setups, the relationship-ending fights over virtually nothing, the two people who should be together but can't figure it out for themselves. Now imagine being kind of charmed by that romantic comedy anyway. I can't promise that anyone else will succumb to Just Wright the way I did, and I definitely groaned and rolled my eyes more often than I swooned, but what can I say-- Just Wright is one of those sappy comedies that presses so hard on your brain's pleasure centers that eventually it succeeds.
Queen Latifah is the film's central character and a huge source of its charms as physical trainer Leslie Wright, the kind of woman who puts everyone else first and goes on dates with men who would rather be her buddy than her boyfriend. Her pretty and shallow best pal Morgan (Paula Patton) is constantly trying to convince her to put on a dress and some heels when they go out, but Leslie, wouldn't you know it, just has to stay true to herself. That seems to pay off when Leslie has a chance encounter with star New Jersey Nets point guard Scott McKnight (Common), who invites her to his lavish birthday party and seems to take an interest. But Leslie, who really ought to know better by now, makes the final mistake of bringing Morgan along, and before long her flirty, gold-digging friend has snagged the NBA star fiance she always wanted.
You don't even need to see the poster featuring Latifah and Common to know how this turns out, but it's surprisingly fun watching the bond grow between them after Scott suffers a knee injury and Leslie comes on board as his personal physical therapist. The chemistry between them is much more friendly than romantic, and though Common's acting skills are better than average, he's not quite up to that "starry eyed in love" look that director Sanaa Hamri asks of him at least a dozen times throughout the movie. But Latifah's fireball energy keeps things moving along, and Patton is even surprisingly endearing as silly Morgan, who does everything in the film for all the wrong reasons, but still somehow makes sense as a friend Leslie would keep around.
The film is peppered with cameos from NBA stars like Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, but the basketball scenes themselves don't carry too much heat, particularly since the New Jersey Nets, featured in the film as division champions, are one of the worst teams in the NBA. If the sports setting was included as a way to draw in male viewers, it's a total failure, but sports-loving women who identify with Latifah's character may appreciate it. Hamri's direction does little to enliven those sports scenes, and she leans way too hard on easy montages and broad comic moments to keep the film moving, but she often pulls some unexpectedly subtle moments out of her actors, particularly Latifah, Patton and the impeccable Phylicia Rashad. Every time Just Wright starts to feel too broad and obvious, one of these actresses will pull out something small that makes the whole effort feel smarter than it really is.
Featuring an entirely black cast and revolving around basketball, Just Wright will likely appeal to a primarily African-American audience, but it's a truly universal story, providing the same sappy, obvious satisfaction as something like 27 Dresses. There's not a drop of originality in it, aside from perhaps the tomboyish lead character, but giving yourself over to Just Wright is more rewarding than you might think.