It’s been a while since I reviewed a film for FilmThreat, which came back online a few months ago. I saw Sanaa Hamri’s film Just Wright (2010) on Friday and knew I had to review it. You can read it on the FT here, but I’m also copying and pasting it below:
For the male protagonist in a sports film, the female of the species and a romance sub-plot either breaks or makes athletic accomplishment. However understanding she may be, unless she imparts unconditional support and wisdom, she is still an obstacle and distraction. For the female lead in a romantic comedy, the career-driven male can stymie or catalyze erotic ascension. Luckily for Scott McKnight (Common) and Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah), “Just Wright” (Sanaa Hamri) is constructed in such a way that neither genre tendency becomes overly burdensome.
Part sports film, part love story, “Just Wright” ropes the viewer along on a mighty funny tale of what could happen after a chance encounter between boy and girl. Scott McKnight is a basketball star for the NBA team the New Jersey Nets and has just become a free agent. Leslie Wright is a Nets-loving physical therapist who cannot escape her “guy’s gal” lot in romantic life. Their acquaintanceship quickly moves to potential extended family territory as Scott grows enamored with and proposes to Leslie’s god-sister Morgan (Paula Patton).
Dynamics change after Scott injures his left PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). Mr. Two-Time MVP’s future in professional basketball is suddenly coasting downward; his fiancée bails because she can’t handle the uncertainty (and retail therapy fails to assuage her fears of not marrying a big shot NBA player). Aside from his mother (Phylicia Rashad), the only person Scott can turn to for help is Leslie. Combining motivational speaking and rehabilitation exercises, she has the Nets’ star back in playing condition in time for the seventh game of the playoffs. Arguably astonished by her ex-fiance’s comeback, Morgan re-enters the picture (no pun intended) and unknowingly threatens the nascent affections brewing between Scott and Leslie.
Hamri’s film ties together the bare essentials of the sports film and the romantic comedy. Scott endures a montage sequence worth of self-doubt and self-loathing, just like any athlete would in a similar situation. If you can’t play, you don’t get paid. Meanwhile, Leslie is biding her time in the basketball film portion of the plot so that the conventions of her narrative can remind her that she deserves to and must fall in love.
“Just Wright” may not feature enough basketball game-play to satisfy the sports junkie, but if you’re curious at all to see Common take to the court with the likes of Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade, the film is well worth it.
I watched Just Wright because I like cinematic basketball game-play more than televised basketball game-play. The previews that I had seen for it gave me the impression that it would be a fairly standard sports comedy where Common plays a star basketball player who gets injured, is forced to go to physical therapy, gives Queen Latifah a hard time, but is eventually won over by her charms and back in shape to play in the big game. In reality, however, Just Wright is half sports film and half romantic comedy. On one side of the movie, Scott McKnight stands proud, successful, and more concerned with securing a spot on the New Jersey Nets’ next season roster than with falling in love or becoming a better man. Then, in traditional sports film fashion, his left PCL takes a beating and he has to put his ego and sense of self aside in order to heal physically and mentally.
On the other side of the movie, Leslie Wright is just living life as usual, driving her beloved disheveled yellow Mustang and trying to find a man who will want her as more than just a great friend. The film implicitly addresses what her “problem” is in the courtship sector: she’s too cool, self-assured, and fun. The right man for her would need to realize that model-room feminine sophistication, as embodied by Morgan, no matter how pleasing it is to one’s eye and epicurean taste, is not necessarily the best choice for everyone. Sure, she’ll look right at home with all the other NBA wives, on your arm, in your chariot and bed chambers, but will she let you be yourself? Will she know how to motivate and help you get your knee right-as-rain again so you can put back on your game face?
Minor spoilage ahead, highlight relevant words at your own discretion. According to this CNN clip, Just Wright is so special because it re-appropriates genre expectations in terms of ethnicity and notions of beauty. If the film were more of a formulaic romantic comedy, the conflict would be more concentrated in whom will ultimately capture Scott’s romantic yearnings. Given the way that Leslie impacts the other characters’ lives, though, Scott would have to pick her over Morgan, and Morgan would have to do the right thing by allowing him to follow his heart. What enables Leslie to get the man? The sports film. When women aren’t victimized, belittled, ignored, or under-appreciated by men in narrative films, they are facilitating and nurturing the men’s philosophical and psychological growth. For all of Leslie’s hard work in the sports film portion of Just Wright, she has to be rewarded in the romantic comedy side of things. It wouldn’t matter what she looked like.
Observations & Miscellania:
1. Product Placement and Branding: Statue of Liberty, 70s yellow Mustang, Buick Electra, The Park restaurant, Bass Ale, tiramisu, Apple laptop (Queen Latifah uses one), iPod (Queen Latifah has one), Equal, Mobil, Joni Mitchell (spoken in conversation between Common and Queen Latifah), Coke, Dasani, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Nora Roberts books, Home Depot, Cartier engagement ring, Playstation (judging from the controller), GQ magazine, Masso Restaurant, Dolce & Gabbana, Bergdorf Goodman, Samsung flatscreen TV (in Scott’s house), Stella Artois, Romancing the Stone, Steinway piano, Terence Blanchard, Lush Life John Coltrane print, Barclays; New Jersey Nets, Izod Center, ESPN, ESPN 2, Mike and Mike, Orlando Magic, Adidas, Nike, All-Star game, TNT, NBA.com.
Here are all the people that are credited as playing themselves:
Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade Rashard Lewis, Bobby Simmons Jr., Jalen Rose, Rajon Rondo, Marv Albert, Michael R. Fratello, Kenny SMith, Stuart Scott, Elton Brand, Tim Walsh, Rod Thorn, Leo Ehrline
2. Audience demographics: 7:25 PM showing at the AMC Avenue at Forsyth. 65% filled (seating capacity under 100), ethnically diverse. Male to female ratio: about even. Average age of audience member: 35.
4. Pam Grier was perfect as Queen Latifah’s mom.
5. I’ve seen a few of Common’s films–Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007), Wanted (200eight), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Date Night (2010)–and consider him to be a solid performer. His acting in Just Wright, however, was inconsistent. During the first basketball sequence, for instance, he moved, talked, and acted like an NBA star, rather than a man who happens to be a professional basketball player. In fact, whenever the scene was of the basketball film motif, Common channeled his inner athlete-diva. The attempt at verisimilitude is fine by itself but against his acting in the romantic comedy scenes, the contrast is too noticeable. The result: I wish you’d show up at my doorstep dressed in a fancy suit or play me a song on the piano one moment, and the next moment I’d want to smack you for wearing my mascara and eyeliner and for speaking to me in loud English like I were legally deaf, daft, or a silly little girl.
6. There are approximately half a dozen scenes or sequences featuring basketball game-play and athletic activity. In terms of screen-time and presentation of actual plays, maybe a die-hard bball fan would not be satisfied, but I felt I got my money’s worth. From close-ups of limbs and faces, to medium shots of bodies swishing past one another, to long shots of dunks and 3-point feats, second unit director and sports coordinator Mark Robert Ellis and his crew did a wonderful job designing and filming the basketball game-play.
7. Yes, Just Wright is cheesy and perhaps a bit too easy regarding the way it ends, but it works because people’s lives are governed by different narratives and motifs. When you get a sports film and a romantic comedy colliding, concessions are to be expected. It makes me daydream…if my quirky, existential, incidental sports film self were to cross paths with a sports romantic comedy, would I be okay with being just a friend or would I want more?
Click here for more pictures from the film.
Click here for YT goodies related to the film.