Friday, May 14, 2010

"Just Wright" and "Letters to Juliet" solid rom-coms

Just Wright (2010)
100 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B

Given the generally low standards of romantic-comedies today, it's a surprise when something like "Just Wright" comes to the market. More romantic than comic, it still doesn't insult the female audience it caters to and boasts the big, engaging personality of Queen Latifah. 

In this formula Cinderella romantic-comedy, the wise and winning Latifah plays Leslie Wright (as in the movie's moniker), a saucy but good-hearted physical therapist who's always the friend but never lucky when it comes to dating. At a gas station she meets cute with New Jersey Jets basketball star Scott McNight (hip-hop artist Common) who turns out be a real gentleman, but his attention wanders when he meets Leslie's smokin' hot but selfish, gold-digging stepsister (Paula Patton). Then when Leslie tries nursing him back to health after a crippling injury on the court, threatening his NBA future, Scott may change his mind—Leslie Wright might be just right. 

"Just Wright" actually gets the genre right: Latifah and Common share a nice, easygoing chemistry, and for a commercial rom-com it avoids dumbing down its characters to move the story along or desperately having them do pratfalls. In fact, everyone behaves more like a human being here: James Pickens Jr. is warm as Leslie's positive father, Patton is more than just a one-dimensional bitch, and Phylicia Rashad has a nice turn as Scott's mom. Written by Michael Elliot and directed by Sanaa Hamri, it's patently contrived but attractive, timely (Obama name-dropping), and never pushy. 

There are some cheesy moments that only exist in the movies, and no laugh-out-loud comedy, but you'll smile a lot and the film's good vibes are carried by Latifah. It's a better back-up plan than…"The Back-up Plan." 

Letters to Juliet (2010) 
105 min., rated PG.
Grade: B 

Grazie, there are no silly pratfalls or terminal illnesses in "Letters to Juliet," a pleasant and shamelessly romantic pleasure. In Verona, Italy, tearful girls still leave notes on the wall next to Juliet's balcony asking for love advice that are then answered by female “secretaries” pretending to be Shakespeare's fictional Capulet. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker and aspiring writer for The New Yorker, while in the city for her pre-honeymoon with her cooking-obsessed fiancee (Gael Garcia Bernal), answers one herself. The letter was written 50 years ago by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), now an older woman, who becomes to Italy with her grandson (handsome but bland Christopher Egan) in order to find her long-lost Lorenzo. Naturally, Sophie tags along. 

"Letters to Juliet" might be slight, predictable corn, but it's sweet, charming, and appealingly old-fashioned without being strained or overly contrived like most contemporary romances. Gary Winick's direction is supple (unlike his stupid "Bride Wars") and the location shooting in the Italian countryside is beautiful, while the wonderfully photogenic Seyfried is kissed by the camera and Redgrave is lovely. Her Romeo is played by real-life, off-screen love Franco Nero and that chemistry is hard to fake.

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