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Movie Review

Just Wright

Grown-up fairy tale that’s ‘Just Wright’

Queen Latifah is looking for love in “Just Wright.’’ Queen Latifah is looking for love in “Just Wright.’’ (David Lee)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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‘Just Wright’’ is as formulaic as they come, but at its core is a surprisingly tender romantic drama about two people falling in love in what feels gratifyingly like real-time. It’s a PG Cinderella story for grown-ups, heavy on the cliches and honest in its feelings, and it provides Queen Latifah with a vehicle for that hoary old maxim: Beauty is more than skin deep.

Well, of course the Queen is beautiful, but in this movie’s scheme, she’s a BBW in a world of twigs and a basketball-loving homegirl surrounded by elegant ladies. Her character, Leslie Wright, is a physical therapist in New Jersey, everyone’s friend and, at 35, unlucky in love. A chance encounter with Scott McKnight (Common), superstar forward for the New Jersey Nets, leads to a mutual attraction that’s quickly snuffed out by Leslie’s ugly-on-the-inside stepsister Morgan (Paula Patton).

Morgan is the movie’s most strained invention, a grasping player’s-wife wannabe who traps Scott with looks and lies. The part’s written as a cartoon and Patton doesn’t do much more with it, but maybe that’s just to let Leslie seem comparatively well-rounded, if you will. Once Scott suffers a potentially career-ending knee injury, the heroine’s installed in his Manhattan penthouse as his therapist, and “Just Wright’’ gets down to business.

Which is, unexpectedly, to watch the leads grow toward each other with gentleness and respect. As written and played, Scott is pure Prince Charming, a gifted athlete who honors his roots in the projects, plays jazz piano, and loves his mama (Phylicia Rashad, judging Morgan and Leslie from on high). Common, the lanky rapper turned actor (“American Gangster,’’ “Date Night’’), will never be an Oscar threat, but he has poise and presence and when Scott looks at Leslie with dawning affection — when he truly sees her — you believe him. Relish the ironies as you see fit, but it’s as if Rock Hudson had been airlifted from one of his Douglas Sirk ’50s melodramas into a Tyler Perry movie.

As such, and as directed by Sanaa Hamri, “Just Wright’’ is one of the better Perry movies Perry hasn’t yet made. Eventually Morgan returns to put the plot through a few more absurd half-turns, and you never quite get used to Pam Grier (“Foxy Brown’’) as Leslie’s nervous-nellie mother — why isn’t she kicking Morgan in the head?

All that nonsense is window-dressing, though, a concession that films have to have conflict and end in resolution. “Just Wright’’ just wants to get cozy and play out its drama of the handsome star falling for the commoner princess. If that’s a fantasy, it feels within reach for 90 minutes. Anyway, this is a movie that ends with the New Jersey Nets winning the Eastern Conference. Now that’s a fantasy.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

JUST WRIGHT Directed by: Sanaa Hamri

Written by: Michael Elliot

Starring: Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Pam Grier, Phylicia Rashad

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 99 minutes

Rated: PG (suggestive material, brief language)

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