Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just Wright

Finally, at long last, Just Wright is a romantic comedy that doesn’t deal in contrived plot gimmicks, shallow condescension and unlikely, lowest-common-denominator comedy. Instead it’s a film about two good people who fall in love because they get to know each other, explore each others personal depths and are legitimately attracted to one another. I didn’t know that was still allowed. One character even has a father who is kind, helping and supportive. It’s a film about people who so rarely have films made about them any more: ordinary people who work, live, pay the bills and want to meet the one that they can’t live without. That’s it. Films are becoming so big but here’s one of the few that still wants to play on the level. We need to cherish them while they last. Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a New York physiotherapist who loves basketball. She dresses up and takes her old Mustang beater on dates which seem to go well but always end with the same story: always a home girl never a bride. Her favourite team are the New Jersey Nets whose star player is Scott McKnight (rapper Common). One night, at a gas station, after a game, Leslie helps McKinght find his gas cap while he is distracted on the phone organizing a charity event. He’s grateful, assists her back into her car and invites her to his birthday party this upcoming Saturday. The invite is great news for Leslie’s best friend Morgan (Paula Patton from Precious) who is crashing at Leslie’s until she can score an NBA husband and be set for life. Her sights are on Scott and indeed, at the party, they hit it off. Soon Scott and Morgan are engaged until a knee injury on the court threatens the rest of Scott’s career. Even if he can be healed by playoffs, his contract is up at the end of the season and rumours abound about whether the Nets will even want to resign him. In comes Leslie who takes leave from her job and becomes Scott’s live-in personal trainer, while Morgan gets cold feet. There’s no success in being the wife of a has-been. You can see where this is going. And yet there’s something so pure and honest about the rapport that builds between Leslie and Scott that even as the plot weaves through dramatic peaks and valleys (some of them contrived, some not) there is a life and truth to the romance that develops. This isn’t the product of some screenwriter who dreamt up wild and zany situations. The film is never forceful; it doesn’t beat the audience over the head with slapstick or melodrama. It just stands back and let’s emotions grow, with patience, over time. Love is more than a feeling, it’s a realization. Just Wright gets that, well, just right. Maybe we have to thank the stars for that. Queen Latifah has a natural film presence. She’s not a star or a diva, but a real person. She brings depth, presence, intelligence and wisdom to films that is easily relatable. You just can’t help but like her. The discovery may be Common, who has spent his film career playing thugs and muscles but here gets to show that he’s a likeable guy and can play on a natural level. His McKnight is not an egocentric basketball star, plays the game for love and not glory or fame and is a good boy that was raised by a strong woman. In a universe where men are always the villains of romance this one has the courage to see he's on the level. The film was directed by Sanaa Hamri who, one film at a time is becoming the most valuable filmmaker in her chosen genre. Her underrated debut Something New was about a relationship between a white man and a black woman and her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 took a whimsical fairy tale plot and stretched it out with human characters. There is no forced sentimentality in these films; no characters working at the convenience of the plot; and no situations that fly beyond the limits of human emotion. Leslie drives a beat-up car, not because she can’t afford it, but because it has sentimental value; Morgan is not so much a villain as a confused woman looking for happiness in all the wrong places; and Scott has a secret room, the contents of which, when revealed, don’t implicate him in perverse misgivings but provides one of the films most touching moments. Sure the film stretches plausibility a tad towards the conclusion, but that’s simply generic requisites. Hamri really gets to the heart of these people, looks at them, understands them, loves them and respects them enough to let them exist in a real world with real love, confusion, joy and heartbreak. Sure those last scenes are cheesy, but when a film deals in what seems like real human emotion, that has a tendency to soar above these bothersome plots. Thus the end of the film made me happy because I’m glad these characters found the outcome they deserved. That’s all that ever matters.

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