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Staff Pick

This Queen Latifah Rom-Com Hits All the Right Notes

By Mandi Bierly

2010’s Just Wright knew just how to highlight its leading lady.

In 2018, when Isn’t it Romantic’s Rebel Wilson expressed how proud she was to be the first plus-size actress to headline a romantic comedy, fans of the genre were quick to make sure Queen Latifah got her due — and rightfully so.

Latifah followed up 2006’s laugh-filled Last Holiday co-starring LL Cool J with 2010’s more amorous Just Wright, opposite Common. Written by Brown Sugar’s Michael Elliot and directed by Something New’s Sanaa Hamri, the film stars Latifah as physical therapist Leslie Wright, a diehard New Jersey Nets fan who, unlike her gold-digging god-sister Morgan (a wickedly delightful Paula Patton), attends NBA games because she genuinely loves basketball. Leslie’s the one who scores the post-game meet-cute with the Nets’ star point guard, Common’s Scott McKnight, at a gas station, where he promptly proves he’s not your stereotypical player: He’s on his cell talking about his charity work; he has a Joni Mitchell CD in his car; and he immediately likes Leslie enough to invite her to his birthday party.

The trick for a successful rom-com, of course, is to create an obstacle to keep the meant-to-be-together couple apart, but in a way that doesn’t make either party unlikable. Cue Morgan pretending to be the selfless, stunning woman of Scott’s dreams. But before we can fully turn on Scott for being suckered by her act — and proposing — he suffers a career threatening knee injury and his beloved fiancée bolts. That leaves Leslie plenty of alone time with Scott as she works to get him back on the court before the playoffs (a must since he’s about to renegotiate his contract).

Unlike more recent films featuring real women with curves (Isn’t it Romantic, I Feel Pretty), this script doesn’t rely on some kind of head trauma for Leslie to see herself as worthy of Scott’s attention. She’s confident from the start about her beauty, her career, the house she’s renovating, and her relationship with her dad (Grey’s Anatomy’s James Pickens Jr.), whose unwavering support overshadows the judgmental slights she receives from her mother (Pam Grier), who believes Morgan is “the kind of woman” who ends up with a man like Scott.

Because Leslie moves in to Scott’s home to train him, we actually get to see why they like each other — something that’s often left out of rom-coms. He’s a thoughtful, soulful gentleman who makes her soup when she gets sick; she’s so easy to talk to and secure in herself, she inspires him to open up (literally, the door to his piano room had been closed until he cracks it for her). The chemistry between them is so well-earned, it’s almost a shame the movie is rated PG.

Morgan’s unwelcome return to Scott’s life paves the way for three other great rom-com must-haves: the moment the leading lady shows she’s strong enough to walk away; the moment the man realizes she’s Miss Wright, and his grand romantic gesture. The (spoiler!) sweet ending gives Leslie — and Latifah — the respect she deserves.