Let’s get one thing clear: when it comes to romantic comedies, the only Queen we recognize is Latifah. Her reign has been long, stacked with lovable characters, impeccably laid hairs (she never misses!) and films we still know every line of. From The Last Holiday to Bringing Down The House to Brown Sugar, Queen Latifah shines in every scene. If there’s one thing she’s going to do, it’s give us a romantic leading lady we can’t help but fall in love with right alongside her leading man. Case in point: Just Wright.
Released in May, 2010, Just Wright (directed by Sanaa Hamri) has all the makings of a rom-com classic: a cute premise (an aspiring athletic trainer and basketball superfan falls for the star of her home team while nursing him back from an injury), a handsome love interest (Common doing what he does best: being fine as hell), and Queen Latifah. She is the secret ingredient. So much so that even early reviews of Just Wright (which is sitting at 46% on Rotten Tomatoes) that dismissed the movie as formulaic and uninspired still hailed Latifah as “charming” and “likable.” Pair her magnetic appeal with Common’s strong (albeit shaky at times) performance and Latifah elevates Just Wright to another banger in her rom-com repertoire.
But it doesn’t matter who Latifah plays opposite — LL Cool J, Steve Martin, Mos Def, or even Adam Sandler, who she’s coupled up with in Netflix’s new hit Hustle — the chemistry is always there. This is why it’s so frustrating when Latifah and her movies are left out of discussions about great rom-coms. Recently, The Ringer’s 50 Best Rom-Coms list ignored Latifah completely and most mainstream white publications fail to acknowledge the brilliance she’s brought to the genre. It’s time to bow down to rom-com royalty, Queen Thee Latifah, who is back in the headlines as she promotes Hustle (and even delivers an award-worthy performance eating wings on Hot Ones). And there’s no better way to pay tribute to Latifah’s undeniable, and criminally underrated, rom-com dominance than to revisit another heartfelt basketball movie — one that puts her talents on full display (our only beef with Hustle is that it needs more Latifah!).
We know that Latifah’s Leslie Wright and Common’s Scott McKnight in Just Wright have chemistry, but would we really want a love like they have? With all the obstacles that get in their way — like Leslie’s gold-digging cousin Morgan, played expertly by Paula Patton — does their romance hold up over a decade later? And where does this rom-com fall in the Queen Latifah Romance Canon™?
The Scene: By the time we get to the romantic conclusion of Just Wright, our leads have been through it. Mainly, Scott McKight has put our girl Leslie Wright through more f*ckery than she deserves — almost marrying her cousin, for example — and probably more than he deserves to be forgiven for. And yet, we all know how this ends. As Scott is being interviewed about his triumphant return to the NBA after recovering from a knee injury, thanks to Leslie’s physiotherapy skills, he comes to a romantic epiphany. In the middle of a live TV interview, Scott declares that not only is Leslie Wright incredibly good at her job as an athletic physical therapist, she’s also the love of his life. He doesn’t explicitly say the latter out loud... yet. Scott dramatically rips off his mic in the middle of the interview and rushes to find Leslie who is in Philadelphia entertaining job offers (information Morgan provides, making her trifling ass useful for once) to tell her he loves her in person. At first, Leslie is pissed (as she should be!) as Scott says, “I’m in love with you. I know that now.” Leslie isn’t buying it and thinks the only reason he’s back is because he finally realized Morgan is a no-good, trifling-ass bad person (Paula Patton in her villain era). She refuses to be anyone’s “Plan B.”
“Be stubborn all you want, but I know you,” Scott says. “I know you love me. I know those feelings don’t conveniently fade away ‘cause you’re mad at me. And you have every right to be. But I’m not leaving these grounds without you.” And then, he delivers a line that was instantly added to the rom-com-lines-that-make-us-swoon hall of fame: “I’m not waking up another morning without being able to look at you next to me.” Leslie walks away like that speech didn’t hit her right in the chest (like it did the rest of us), but instead of a rejection, Scott gets exactly what he wanted: she’s going to stay in Jersey and be a trainer for the Nets. They kiss, make up, and live happily ever after. Or do they?
Does The Grand Gesture Hold Up?
Ineye Komonibo: Now, I’m not one for a super public declaration of love, but in this context, yes, it holds up. He had to make a public declaration. Scott needed to say that the only reason he was playing basketball again was because Leslie. His team gave up on him, his girl gave up on him, and this woman is the sole reason he was able to make a comeback. He knows that, and he's having the realization in a very organic, very honest way that I really liked. You know what? I'm in love with this person. I gotta go get her. There's nothing more important than this.
Kathleen Newman-Bremang: I agree. I liked it a lot. I think it holds up — even the publicness of it — because he was asked a question, and he answered it honestly. He was asked, “How did you come back from this injury? How did you end up playing so well?” And let's not forget that when Scott first comes back from this injury, he plays like shit. He had no confidence. And then Leslie gives him pep talk in the middle of the game. She’s like, “Get your shit together.” And then he got his shit together. So, legitimately, Leslie is the main reason he got his groove back. Even though he was on live television, and public declarations can be cringey or gross, I love that he said publicly that he would be nowhere without this woman, because that’s the truth. Also, a declaration like that on TV is great for her career. It was a selfless act because it doesn't really make him look great; he could have said, “I just persevered and I'm just the greatest athlete in the world.” Instead he admitted, “I had an amazing trainer. She also believed in me when no one else did.” And he tells the whole world that she’s great at her job. Someone complimenting me about my work as a sign of love may actually be my kink. I love that shit.
IK: I guess I just don’t love the timing of it. Why not do all of that when she’s in front of you? This is the thing that makes it maybe not hold up as much for me — I hate a “hindsight is 2020” type of man. You had this amazing woman on your team and in your life, and it wasn't until after things went to hell that you're like, That’s a Black queen right there! Okay, thanks, but where was this energy before? That's the only part of it that is irritating to me.
KNB: We’re going to get to whether or not this man is trash in general, but the gesture for me holds up because when Scott realizes that he loves her, he immediately is like, ‘I gotta go tell her right now.’ Yeah. I love that trope in rom-coms where it's like, this is urgent. To quote Love Jones, falling in love is “urgent as a motherf*cker.” And WHEW, that speech he gives? Yes, please.
IK: It's a good speech because it also takes immediate effect. There's no hesitation on Leslie’s end either, no long, drawn out back-and-forth. It feels so refreshing to see a character say, “I love you and I want you,” and have the other person just lean into it.
Rate The Kiss:
IK: Queen Latifah does not miss when it comes to kissing. One thing she’s going to do is put her whole body into a kiss, and miss ma’am does not hold back in these scenes. It is always rewarding. It is always realistic. I always want to be in the room.
Queen Latifah does not miss when it comes to kissing. One thing she’s going to do is put her whole body into a kiss.
KNB: I’m going to give this kiss — for the first time in the history of this column — a 10 out of 10. I know we usually point out that the end-of-movie kiss is never the best kiss in the movie because the first kiss is usually the best kiss. But in this case, the ending kiss did what it was supposed to do! It was one of those hugs that turns into a kiss that feels so familiar but also so sexy. Scott kisses the side of her cheek first and then turns and it gets progressively hotter. 10/10, no notes! I do have notes on Common’s acting through the film, but here, he came through.
IK: It's a 9 out of 10 for me. It could have been just a touch sexier. Sorry! If we're gonna go for it, go for it — give us some tongue.
Could It Be Me?
KNB: I know I’m usually the bird who says it could be me, but not in this case. The fact that this man — after that very first meet-cute at the gas station with all that incredible chemistry — started dating her cousin just because she was a model or whatever? Absolutely not. Scott decided that physically Morgan is the person he should be with, and he just ignored the fact that he was so into Leslie when they first met. I would definitely think, This motherf*cker is not for me if he did that after we had this incredible connection. He did the same thing to her that the dude she went on a date with at the beginning of the movie does. He puts her in the friend zone.
IK: It’s a no for me, too. He also proposed to Morgan! If the man I want decided to propose to another person or took a very serious step towards commitment to another person and then tried to spin the block on me later, I just could never be able to shake the idea of being the second choice. He initially did not think that I was good enough to be his partner, and the way that my insecurity is set up, I would never forgive him for that. I would never be able to feel confident in the relationship. If the girl was my cousin, I’d say “Congratulations!" and go to the wedding because we're family, but he’d never be able to step to me like that ever again. Never.
KNB: That’s where Leslie’s head is at first. She’s been here before, right? She’s used to guys looking at Morgan instead of her. So she just accepts it, basically is like ‘I'll be there. I'll be at the wedding. I'll go help him out when he needs physio. I'll be that person.’ But then they have this amazing night, and she gets that good d*ck. I don’t think she realized how much she liked him or that she was falling in love with him until they had sex. Still…I actually think that I would maybe get swept up in the romance and how much I really liked this person as well.
Also, it's not like he immediately took Morgan back. He had to listen to her super manipulative speech about how her mom died, and her dad left. She doesn’t say, ‘I don’t want to be married to a broke ass former ball player.’ She just comes out with this sob story about her parents. Not to defend a man, but I feel like it maybe could be me in that moment.
IK: Let’s call it for what it is. Morgan left Scott when he was down and out, but he still took her back because she's thin and light skinned. . Obviously, they’re not going to say that explicitly in the movie, but Scott’s initial decision-making was tied to fatphobia and to colorism. He had more in common with Leslie, but Morgan fit the image of what people would expect a professional athlete’s partner to look like. It is unforgivable to me that someone would let fatphobia and colorism and pretty privilege get in the way of what we were supposed to have. And then you want to come back…man, leave me alone. I'm not gonna beg someone who doesn't think that I'm God's gift to earth the first time around. No way.
When you talk about rom-coms, if you're leaving out a Queen Latifah movie, like Just Wright or The Last Holiday, it’s giving anti-Black. Period.
KNB: Yes, you hit one something so important that I almost wish the move leaned into more. Leslie is constantly put in the friend zone because we live in a fatphobic, colorist society. She's beautiful. She's amazing. She's the perfect woman. And yet, all of these men flock to Morgan instead. And why does Morgan feel entitled to having this extraordinary life? She feels entitled because she's skinny and light skinned. Morgan basically says, 'Someone who looks like me should not have this ordinary life.' I’m sorry, you are the most ordinary person in this entire movie, Morgan.
Would You Want A Love Like This?
KNB: I want a love specifically like the scene where they are sitting, flirting, and playing the piano together. Whew. I squealed out loud. The chemistry is there. The friendship is there. I love that!
IK: You know I’m typically against a friends-to-lovers trope, but man, do these people deserve to be together. They have such a great rapport and connection that is so natural and organic. I really love that.
KNB: I don't mind a friends-to-lovers trope. I just don't love the idea that your partner has to be your best friend. You know the trend in wedding speeches to be like, “I'm marrying my best friend.” I get that that's true for a lot of people, and that's amazing for you. But I think that friendship and romance are two different things. And saying your spouse also has to be your best friend dilutes what a friendship is and gives the idea that a best friend shouldn’t be the most important person in your life or that a friendship isn’t as significant. The most important thing is my marriage, and it has to be all the things. Therefore, the person I'm marrying also has to be my best friend. I don’t love that. Also, if you are a woman attracted to men, with that logic, your best friend has to be a straight man. Really? Couldn’t be me! Anyway, Leslie doesn’t really have friends except for trash Morgan, so I don’t know if I love how intertwined her and Scott’s lives are. They work together, and they’re best friends— it’s too much. She needs some independence. Fine, I would need my independence.
IK: Some people want a partner who's gonna sit up and watch every game in the playoffs series or whatever. But the main thing I don’t like about this pairing is that I feel like the guy should be the first person to realize his feelings. Scott denied his feelings for Leslie for far too long. By the time he came back to confess his love, I would've already found somebody else. “Sorry, somebody else on another team just hit me up. Serge Ibaka is taking me out for drinks after training. Smooches.”
Is This Couple Still Together?
KNB: I’m going to say yes.
IK: I think so, too. But here's the thing: I think that Scott stepped out on her. He definitely cheated.
KNB: He's a ball player. Of course he did.
IK: Scott's one of those guys who knows where home is but is still gonna hit the streets. And because Leslie is a ride-or-die type who hasn’t been lucky in love before this, she’ll stick it out because she feels grateful that this man loves her — an example of what happens when you’re told that you deserve to be treated a certain way because of how you look.
KNB: I 100% agree. I just feel sad because Leslie deserves so much better. And as we’ve established, she doesn't have a real best friend because her cousin ain't shit. Morgan will be the one who gives advice like, “Oh, just stay, look at how much money he has! He's a basketball player. Just stay with him. Who cares if he cheated?” Of course Scott will be back begging, apologizing, saying all the right stuff. He'll give that same speech we loved, and Leslie will take him back. She’s Khloe Kardashian. I also think she’s going to build her own training empire, and they’ll be a power couple whose brands are very tied to each other like Steph and Ayesha Curry or Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade. He’ll settle down when he retires though, and they’ll have this nice, lowkey, relaxing life in New Jersey.
IK: They have kids for sure. They even grow old together, and they’re probably happy…for the most part.
Queen Latifah could have done Maid in Manhattan, but Jennifer Lopez couldn’t have done Just Wright.
Where Does Just Wright Rank In The Queen Latifah Rom-Com Canon?
KNB: I'm not gonna say it’s the best one because that’s Last Holiday, but it's up there. It's top two, but it's not one. The thing about Queen Latifah is that she’s literally everything you would want in a rom-com lead. She's so charismatic. She's so funny. She’s stunning. She's so good at physical comedy as well as just being so natural, relatable, and endearing that you just wanna root for her immediately. In all of these movies, you're just rooting for her and you just want her to be happy. She carries this movie because Common is not a great actor yet — I think this was his first major film role — and because Scott is a wasteman. But you still want them to get their happily-ever-after.
IK: Queen Latifah is always believable. You believe everything, despite who she's with in real life or how she identifies, because the acting is what matters. She's gonna tell that story, and we eat it up every time. We just have to give it to the queen because at the core of it, she is a master storyteller.
KNB: You’re so right. Now I want to see her in a queer rom-com, though. Maybe co-starring Angela Bassett? Bottom line: Queen Latifah is so charming. I hate that non-Black people tend to leave her and her work out of the “Best Rom-Coms of All Time” lists. The other girls don't have charisma like Queen Latifah. It's not even necessarily sex appeal — which she also has in spades — but just the leading lady star quality. When you talk about rom-coms, if you're leaving out a Queen Latifah movie, like Just Wright or The Last Holiday, it’s giving anti-Black. Period. You’re putting Katherine Heigl movies in the conversation and not Queen Latifah? Please. She’s up there with Julia Roberts, with Meg Ryan, with Jennifer Lopez, with Sanaa Lathan, all of them.
IK: Queen Latifah could have done Maid in Manhattan, but Jennifer Lopez couldn’t have done Just Wright. Sorry.
KNB: Queen Latifah could have done You’ve Got Mail, but Meg Ryan couldn’t have done Just Wright.
IK: Queen Latifah could have done 50 First Dates, but Drew Barrymore couldn’t have done Just Wright.
KNB: We could keep going. [laughs] We’re going to get dragged, but we’re not wrong! Put some respect on her name and bow down to the rom-com queen! Long may she reign.