A physical therapist takes on her god-sisters fiance as a client. A client who just so happens to be the biggest star in the NBA, and the leading scorer for her favorite team.
Director Sanaa Hamri been hit or miss with me in her brief feature film history- the first of which was Something New, a movie I found myself rather impressed with as a first attempt. So when I saw that Just Wright was her newest project, Watcher X picking it as the first movie of this weekends double-header didn't strike me as a total loss. The fact that scribe Michael Elliot has definitely been more miss than hit not withstanding (I guess they can't all be Like Mike). I certainly wouldn't have guessed, however, that I would leave the theater positive it was the best Romantic Comedy I've seen this year.
Hamri's approach is one of simplicity, keeping the stories and characters simple, allowing them to speak for themselves instead of pushing on us her feelings on who might be wrong or right. Though a bit awkwardly, she avoids giving into the belief that there have to be true villains in a love story. That it has to be complicated to be worth smiling at when everything inevitably works out. I'm in no way saying that the end product is a revolution in the genre, just a welcome break from the usual.
Latifah carries herself with the air of sad confidence that we've come to expect from her in roles like these, a proud woman who finds her ways to be happy. Will she be getting any Oscars? No I wouldn't say so. But after watching Katherine Heigel desperately need a man in rom-com after rom-com, Latifah sells a content Leslie Wright, and I am happy to buy it. Placed on the same scale Common struggles to hold his ground, but in terms of rappers-turned-actors he's the new Robert Redford. The gorgeous Paula Patton turns in the best performance (another in a quickly growing line of them) as Leslie's selfish God-sister Morgan. Chief among the notable supporting actors in this small ensemble is Phylicia Rashad, a face I'm glad to see again outside of Jenny Craig commercials.
With no explosions or knock down drag out fights, no on screen vomiting or animated origin sequences, Hamri is left to keep the pace visually and does so with uncomplicated, yet interesting editing choices, and a fervour for pace keeping. Watching Just Wright I would assume that the director was no fan of basketball personally. The court action plays out in sequences that are clean and clear- if not a bit thin. They smack of the freshness that comes with an outsider being given the reigns, but also of someone who's not interested in the details. The game is a means to an end for her, nothing more. Is this the right approach? I don't know that I could say. It's no Hoosiers that's for certain, but it works for this story and that's enough for me.
Just Wright's success is bound inextricably to it's aversion to all things flashy. I've heard it said: "If you try hard, you die hard." I'm sure that's not something I believe in a galactic sense, but here it applies perfectly. Flying under the radar is this solid genre piece's greatest asset- Though I suspect it to be a double edged sword as I saw it within a week of it's release and the theater was all but empty.
The Reel Deal Recommends:
Stranger Than Fiction: Latifah plays a small part in a magnificent film.
Smoking Aces: A great action film, Common's best speaking role.
Deja Vu: A strong sci-fi romp, and the first place Patton stole my heart.