One of the things Denzel Washington said about his preparation or the role of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane was that for anyone to take him seriously as a world class boxer, he’d have to look and box like one in the film’s opening scenes. His reasoning was that for anyone to think he truly was Rubin Carter; he’d have to be in the shape of his life and be a credible boxer. The acting and character study was one thing, but the physicality of the role demanded that he look like a world championship level boxer. The same thing could be said of Common in Just Wright; the physicality of the role is impressive, the film is not.
Just Wright follows a love triangle between three people. Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a physical therapist who just can’t quite find a guy. She’s always looked at as the perfect friend as opposed to the perfect mate. A huge New Jersey Nets fan, she has a chance meeting with all everything NBA point guard Scott McKnight (Common) that leads to the ultimate invite: to his upcoming birthday party. Taking along her godsister (and gold digger wannabe) Morgan (Paula Patton), McKnight falls for her on the spot and dashes the quick chemistry the two had initially. After tearing up his knee, and Morgan’s subsequent departure, Leslie is there to pick up the pieces and help get him back onto the court in a contract year. When they fall in love, and Morgan comes back, McKnight is left with a dilemma.
And there’s a great film about choice and love just dying to come out of this material that does not manage to come out. The basic structure of it is relatively simple: you have three great leads that have remarkable chemistry and a director who has shown the ability to make a great romantic drama already (Sanaa Hamri directed the vastly underrated Something New in 2006). So where does it go wrong? It’s in the script. It’s certainly not in the cast.
Common, in his first leading role, looks like an NBA point guard. Already known for being in great physical condition in his personal life, as well as in action films like Wanted and Terminator: Salvation, Common is in good enough physical shape to look like an NBA point guard. He doesn’t look out of place amongst the rest of the real life NBA players like Dwight Howard and Dwayne Wade, both on and off the court. During the game scenes, Common looks like he belongs on the court with the players. He’s obviously trained really hard for the role and it shows. It gives him credibility throughout the film and allows him to use his natural charisma and presence help carry his end of the film. He’s not a polished, first rate actor yet but he’s getting there. Unlike a lot of rappers turned actors he has shown a lot of growth and improvement since earlier roles in his career. There’s a lot of potential in him, waiting to come out.
It doesn’t hurt that he has two talented actresses to play off of. Patton came into the spotlight with a strong supporting role in Precious this past winter while Latifah has shed her musical roots for being one of the more prominent female Africa-American actresses of her generation. For what they have to do they’re both solid and credible. Latifah and Common in particular have a strong, significant chemistry with one another that carries the film much higher than it deserves to be. Given the film’s plot structure and script this ought to be an absolute stinker of a film; their chemistry works so wonderfully that it carries the film to watchable heights.
And that’s ultimately the film’s problem is that it’s designed to be a teary melodrama when it should be a strong romantic drama. The film gives broad strokes to characters it ought to be providing little ones towards; there’s too much melodrama involved when ordinary drama would suffice. There’s so much strength in the cast that when given such over the top material it downplays what is a fairly good story. If the romantic film is really the last great bastion of story-telling, where characters matter more than anything else, then Just Wright barely passes the test. It’s only because the cast is so strong with one another that it becomes a decent, if unfulfilling, film.
Director: Sanaa Hamri
Notable Cast: Common, Queen Latifah, Paula Patton, Pam Grier, Phylicia Rashad, Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade
Writer(s): Michael Elliot