If you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what’s coming here, but there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, you know what’s coming when you combine eggs, flour, sugar, and vanilla to make a cake, and you still enjoy eating it. It is as predictable as, well, you’d expect, for a movie cake made from the Ugly Duckling crossed with Cinderella and a little bit of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” must be. But appealing performers, a heart-warming story, and some genuine on-screen chemistry make this movie the best romance of 2010 so far.
Queen Latifah plays Leslie Wright, who has a weakness for fixer-uppers. She drives a banged-up car. She buys a house that needs a lot of work. She works in rehabilitation as a physical therapist. She takes in Morgan (Paula Patten of “Precious”), a friend who has no job or family. Leslie is comfortable with who she is and it may be in part the ease she projects on dates that keeps her in the friend zone. She just feels too safe.
Leslie is a big Nets fan. One night, after a game, she sees the team’s star, Scott McKnight (rap star Common) at a gas station trying to figure out how to open his gas tank. They hit it off and he invites her to his birthday party. Leslie brings Morgan, who is going after her dream of being married to a player in the NBA the way Sir Edmund Hillary went after Mount Everest.
It works at first. But when Scott is injured and needs physical therapy, he gets a chance to discover what we’ve known all along, and not just because she is being played by the movie’s star and producer, that Leslie is a very special woman. The plot has the standard ups and downs but an always-likable cast keeps us rooting for Scott and Leslie to realize what we’ve known from the gas station — that they are just right. Common is not an actor, but like most musical performers he has superb timing and the on-screen confidence to let us see Scott thinking. It is his willingness to be quiet on screen that establishes Scott as a sincere and decent man who loves to play basketball and is committed to his team but never lets the glamor go to his head. He has some moves in the basketball scenes and a bunch of real-life athletes show up to give the game scenes some authenticity and make Common’s acting skills look Oscar-worthy by comparison. The lovely Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad play the moms and both create real characters who are warm, smart, strong, and loving.
Queen Latifah is also completely at ease on screen and she is utterly endearing as Leslie, a woman who knows who she is and just wants someone who can understand how much she has to give. The film doesn’t think it needs to start with the couple disliking each other; it is captivating that Leslie and Scott instantly like each other as friends. The connection is so strong that we look forward to seeing them discover it for themselves. When they sit down together at a piano, we know they will be in tune. And knowing it only adds to our pleasure in watching it unfold.