Queen Latifah as Leslie Wright
Common as Scott McKnight
Paula Patton as Morgan Alexander
James Pickens, Jr. as Lloyd Wright
Phylicia Rashad as Ella McKnight
Pam Grier as Janice Wright
Laz Alonso as Mark Matthews
Michael Landes as Nelson Kaspian
Leslie (Queen Latifah) is a guy’s girl; she likes sports and cars and doing her own handyman work. She’s funny and likeable and easy to get along with. So easy to get along with that no one wants to date her, it’s just easier to be her buddy. It doesn’t help that her god-sister Morgan (Paula) keeps snatching any eligible man she can find in her quest to marry into money and live the easy life.
Leslie, as a character, is a breath of fresh air, the kind of real person that most movies don’t want to bother with. There’s nothing escapist in following the life of a normal looking person with normal job who doesn’t somehow view themselves as an outcast from mainstream society.
Leslie is none of those things. An experienced physical therapist, she’s taking care of her family, fixing up her home, unworried about her looks (though not a slob) and mature enough to know what’s worth being concerned with and what’s not. Whatever problems she has, she never feels sorry for herself. Nor has she given up dreaming, which is what gives her the moxy to just start up a conversation with her home team’s star player (Common) where others might be tongue-tied. And when Morgan quickly swoops in to snatch him up, well that’s life, more fish in the sea.
It’s a refreshing start compared to what we usually get. Unfortunately it’s got all the depth of a TV move and director Sanaa Hamri (“Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2”) can’t seem to drum much drama up. Too much is laid out ahead of time. It’s quite obvious what Morgan’s faults are and what she’s likely to do when Scott suffers a near career threatening injury. It’s quite obvious he’s going to need an experienced physical therapist to come in and spend loads and loads of close personal time with him, too, if he’s going to get better in time for the playoffs.
Yes, you want to set up your characters’ natures before hand so that there’s adequate logic behind what they do. The trick is to not be so heavy handed both their actions and the likely plot elements that will lead to their actions not being immediately obvious. And every so often they have to do something they wouldn’t do, because human beings are like that. They have free will. “Just Wright” doesn’t. It’s all paint by numbers.
Which wouldn’t be so bad if the performances were stronger. Latifah can easily carry this sort of thing, though she also has the closest to a well-defined character and that means a lot. Common, however, seems more than a little out of his element as essentially the leading man in what amounts to a Hallmark movie. It doesn’t help that Scott is something of a milksop, going along with whoever has lectured to him last (Leslie, Morgan, his mom, take your pick) and taking quite a long time to find any sort of spine. You would think a professional athlete playing at the top of his game would be stronger-willed than that. And Morgan’s empty materialism doesn’t offer much room for Paula Patton’s natural charm to shine. Even for a shallow character she’s REALLY shallow.
It’s too bad. “Just Wright’s” heart is in the right place. It just doesn’t know what to do with it.