Just Wright first published by Sight & Sound, November 2010
Review: Down-to-earth New Jersey physiotherapist Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) meets gentlemanly New York basketball superstar Scott McKnight (Common), but his eye is on Leslie’s rapacious best friend Morgan (Paula Patton). When Scott is seriously injured, Leslie moves in – but can she mend Scott’s knee and win his heart?
This, the basic plot of Just Wright, has an obvious pitch attached: a Cinderella-style romance for the belles, with sports (and cameos from a line-up of real basketball figures) thrown in for any beaux dragged along to it. In fact, though, the divides of gender are defined within the film in far less stereotypical terms. Scott may play ball, but Leslie is herself a long-time fan of the game, earthily riling any rival team’s supporters while also able accurately to quote stats going back decades. Very much the tomboy, she insists on driving her grandfather’s old banger, and kits herself out in her team’s colours when her mother (Pam Grier, no less) would rather she dress more like the elegant Morgan – and yet Morgan’s obsession with those romcom mainstays, couture and shopping, are here used precisely to signify her shallowness. Meanwhile the fatherless Scott is a mamma’s boy – and his mother is played by Phylicia Rashad, the iconic übermom Mrs Huxtable from TV’s The Cosby Show. His athleticism may masculinise him, but in fact Scott spends much of the film off the court as Leslie’s patient and dependent – and the hidden room in his house that Morgan speculates is a den of male iniquity turns out to accommodate his piano and jazz memorabilia.
Written by Michael Elliott (Like Mike, Brown Sugar) and directed by Sanaa Hamra (Something New, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2), Just Wright certainly follows a romantic formula – but its leads are charismatic and surprisingly adult in their conduct, the comedy is rooted in character and dialogue rather than cheap gags or gross-out, and even Common’s basketball sequences seem credible. So Just Wright comes at the quality end of conventional cinema – even if its qualities are not quite enough to justify its length.
* * *
Synopsis: When 35-year-old basketball fanatic Leslie Wright is not refurbishing her house in New Jersey with the help of her devoted parents, she is working as a physical therapist in a New York medical centre. Down-to-earth and straight-talking, she is the kind of woman whom guys tend to regard as their best friend rather than their girlfriend. So even though she is the one who befriends the Nets’ star player Scott McKnight at a gas station and gets invited to his birthday party, she still lets her younger, prettier friend Morgan – who is looking to nab herself an NBA husband – make the first move.
Soon Scott and Morgan are engaged, despite the misgivings of Scott’s mother. When Scott’s knee is seriously injured during a game, Morgan insists Leslie become his personal therapist and move full-time into his luxurious mansion. As rumours circulate that the Nets are going to drop their injured player, shallow Morgan walks out on him. Over three months, as Leslie nurses Scott back to his physical peak and rebuilds his confidence, their easy relationship blossoms into romance.
The return of Scott’s success lures Morgan back too, and when Scott shows indecision, Leslie leaves to pursue a career as an NBA training assistant on her own. In the middle of a television interview, Scott realises what Leslie means to him, and with Morgan’s blessing tracks her down to Philadelphia. Leslie takes a job with the Nets, working by the side of her lover.
strap: Sanaa Hamra’s sportsworld-set romantic comedy lays up a basketball star with his physiotherapist for some sexual healing