Two old fashioned romantic dramas helped along by their winning casts
film from a queer perspective
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Romance, Romance:
Just Wright-Letters to Juliet
Expanded Edition of 5-12-10 WCT Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
The summer blockbuster movie season is upon us with a batch of sequels ready to satiate avid
moviegoers with
Iron Man 2 – the overstuffed but still somewhat satisfying sequel thanks to the
performances of Robert Downey, Jr., Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke – the first sequel out of the
gate.  But though Hollywood is jonesing to get this summer movie party started already they’re also
offering up a couple of nice romantic dramas pitched to their newly rediscovered wedge audience –
teenage fan girls, their moms, grandmas and of course, their gay doppelgangers (we know who we

Just Wright, an urban romance starring lesbian favorite Queen Latifah and rapper Common and
the lush
Letters to Juliet with Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Redgrave and British
newcomer Christopher Egan as the resident male eye candy are about as fresh as a bouquet of wilted
spring flowers.  But it’s not inventiveness or originality that makes both movies so endearing and
welcome in the coming season of movie cacophony.  Like your favorite comforter or old sweater these
two movies follow in the time tested mold of romantic dramas stretching back to the silent era.  The
familiarity and old fashioned-ness of both is the key to their appeal.

Just Wright, written by Michael Elliot and directed by Sanaa Hamri, Latifah plays Leslie Wright
(hence the cutsie-poo title), a physical therapist who dates on a regular basis but can’t find a man to
settle down with in spite of the nagging of mom Pam Grier and subtle disappointment of dad James
Pickens, Jr.  Her cousin Morgan (Paula Patton who played the lesbian teacher in Precious), on the
other hand is a gorgeous man trap determined to snag pro basketball player Scott McKnight
(Common) and jump into the good life in one fell swoop.

But it’s Leslie who “meets cute” with Scott at a gas station (the two bond over music – the “Mingus”
CD by Joni Mitchell) and gets a coveted invitation to his birthday party.  Naturally, she brings along
Morgan and before you can say “Ivana Trump” the hunter has captured her prey.  But when Scott
hurts his knee and needs reconditioning he hires a comely physical therapist making Morgan see
red.  “Some women have gaydar, I have ‘hodar,” Morgan tells Leslie, insisting that she come
onboard to do the job.  Soon Morgan’s bored staying home and the relationship begins to teeter –
just as love vibes and hormones are rising between Scott and Leslie, who has been nursing a secret
desire for him all along.

Romantic complications ensue on the bumpy road to love with plenty of action on the basketball court
thrown in for sports fans as well.  Latifah, as always, brings an enormous amount of good will and
humor to every scene and she’s able to work miracles with just about any actor.  She’s become adept
at making the thinnest movie work (remember
Last Holiday?) and audiences – whether it’s because of
her “real woman” zaftig proportions (unusual for a film star) or constant sunny optimism – respond
overwhelmingly to her.  She has enough good chemistry with her costar Common to make you
believe that she’s really falling for him (there is an especially nice moment as she sings a snatch of
“The More I See You” as he plays the piano) and boy, is he easy on the eyes.  Patton does what she
can with her two dimensional part and looks sensational while Grier, Phylicia Rashad as Scott’s tough
mother and others are on hand to offer support in tissue thin roles.

It will be easy for queer audiences to project their own fantasies onto
Just Wright – in her sweats,
basketball jersey and passion for the game Leslie’s one of those old fashioned, stereotypical “tom
boys” – a dyke hiding in plain site that lesbian audience members will easily be able to translate for
themselves.  So ladies – take your girlfriend or wife and indulge in a little fantasy role playing

Letters to Juliet, the other romantic drama on tap this week gives us the movie’s replacement for
the void left by Reese Witherspoon (where did she go?), Amanda Seyfried, who recently scored in the
complex psychosexual thriller
Chloe and now returns to the lush romance territory of Mamma Mia (sans
the Abba songs).  She plays Sophie, a Manhattanite who travels to Italy with Victor her fiancée (
Bernal) for a “pre-honeymoon.”  But he’s distracted by business involving the impending
opening of his Italian restaurant back home so Sophie heads to the shrine of Juliet where for
centuries lovers have left letters looking for answers to their broken hearted queries.  A researcher for
the New Yorker who wants to write for the magazine, Sophie senses a story when she discovers that a
clutch of Italian Ann Landers are answering the letters.

The group invites Sophie to join them and when Sophie digs out a letter caught behind a stone in the
shrine written decades earlier by the lovelorn Claire (Redgrave) she decides to answer it.  Soon
Claire, now widowed, turns up along with her grandson Charlie (Egan – who looks like a young Heath
Ledger), an uptight crank who excoriates Sophie for kicking up the dust of granny’s memories.  But
Sophie and Claire are determined to track down Claire’s old beau Lorenzo and the picture becomes a
travelogue through Italy’s gorgeous countryside.  A raft of modern Italian pop tunes accompanies the
trio on their journey (a refreshing change of pace) and of course, as the quest continues Charlie
slowly (too slowly for my tastes) begins to thaw and our gorgeous blond heroine is faced with a
romantic Sophie’s choice.

Though the movie, directed by Gary Winnick (
Bride Wars) and penned by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan
is a bath in schmaltz from beginning to end and is as calculated as
Three Coins in the Fountain and a
zillion other Italian set romantic movies, it has Redgrave who brings instant depth to even the most
throwaway of lines.  And when Redgrave, the aging still beautiful Juliet, meets up again with her one
time Romeo and we see that it is her real life love Franco Nero (the two originally met while filming
Camelot in 1967) – the passion between the two is palpable and practically leaps off the screen.  This
canny bit of casting on the part of the producers is the greatest triumph of
Letters to Juliet – it
provides a powerful undertow that gives this stock romance highlighted by its gorgeous locations
some real validity and makes it worth getting the hanky out for.
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