There is something to be said for a movie like “Just Wright,” where the protagonist is decent and noble and eventually has good things happen to her simply because she deserves them. There is something to be said for letting the character who would normally be the Best Friend in one of these movies take the lead and have her dreams come true, too, even though she isn’t “slender” or “beautiful.”
Alas, what there is to be said about “Just Wright” is that it’s earnest and well-intentioned but sloppy. The story is simple to the point of being simple-minded, the laughs meager, the pacing all wrong. It has, in Queen Latifah, about as instantly likable a lead as it could have. Then it ruins it by putting her opposite Common, a rapper whose nom de hip-hop is wearyingly appropriate.
Her Majesty plays Leslie Wright (GET IT?? JUST WRIGHT???), a physical therapist who’s constantly being put in the Friend Zone by the guys she dates. Her best friend, Morgan (Paula Patton) — the slender, beautiful girl who would usually be the main character here — is a vapid gold-digger intent on marrying an NBA star. Leslie rolls her eyes at what a shallow trollop her best friend is, and we wonder why they continue to be friends. We will continue to wonder this for the duration of the film.
By chance, Leslie meets Scott McKnight (Common), a star player for the New Jersey Nets (I’m told this is a basketball team) who is a perfect gentleman, involved in charities, beloved by one and all. He invites Leslie to his birthday party. When she arrives, with Morgan in tow, Scott McKnight, the perfect gentleman, blatantly disregards Leslie and hits on Morgan. Morgan, for her part, is a terrible, terrible friend who would push her own mother in front of a train if it would get her a date with an NBA star.
It is here that the movie sidelines its MVP and lets the awful Morgan play a couple quarters. (Am I doing this right?) While Scott and Morgan fall in love, poor Leslie has to sit and watch, waiting for her opportunity to shine. Since this is a Cinderella story, we already know how it’s going to end, more or less, so the journey needs to be livelier and more engaging than this is.
The paint-by-numbers screenplay, by Michael Elliot (“Brown Sugar,” “Like Mike”), gives us wasted characters like Scott’s generic, aphorism-spouting mother (Phylicia Rashad) and Leslie’s unsupportive mom (Pam Grier). But at least the director, Sanaa Hamri (“Something New,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2”), cast charismatic actresses in the roles. Making Common the male lead was a mistake. For as flat and boring as he is, they might just as well have cast an actual basketball player.
It befalls Queen Latifah to do most of the heavy lifting. She must be charming and humble, self-effacing but not a doormat, strong-willed but not bitchy. And she pulls it off! Leslie, like Latifah, is someone you’d want to hang out with. She deserves a better friend than Morgan, a better man than Scott, and a better movie than this.
C (1 hr., 41 min.; )