Hollywood never has a shortage of Cinderella stories for audiences.
While Queen Latifah produces and stars in the new romantic comedy, “Just Wright,” opening in theaters May 14, she isn’t a helpless princess waiting for her prince charming. Latifah said her attitude in her life and in her work is about female empowerment.
“My character is a determined and successful woman,” the singer, rapper, businesswoman and actress said in the NYC press junket attended by The Setonian. “She’s not going to settle for less than the best.”
In the film, Latifah plays Leslie Wright, a 35-year-old hardworking physical therapist. Date after blind date, Leslie finds that men are much more comfortable being her friend than becoming romantically involved.
When she meets Scott McKnight (played by rapper-turned-actor Common), her favorite New Jersey Nets player, the two form a close friendship and Scott falls quickly for the charms of Leslie’s childhood friend, Morgan (Paula Patton), who has made it her mission in life to climb the social ladder and marry an NBA star. But when Scott is injured during a game and his basketball career teeters dangerously close to the end, Morgan leaves him and Leslie is left to repair both Scott’s physical and emotional injuries.
For director Sanaa Hamri (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2”), Latifah was the best person to play a confident character like Leslie.
“Queen Latifah’s personality and character are authentic,” she said. “She has a great sense of rhythm in her work and you see it in every performance what her spirit brings to the table.”
Hamri said a theme she and Latifah felt was important in the film was the idea of presenting a strong female character to an audience, no matter what her body type might be. She said the fact that Leslie does what her heart tells her makes her feel like an authentic character to an audience of college-age women trying to succeed in the world.
“Latifah is a regular-sized, healthy woman,” Hamri said. “That’s normal. A size 0 – that’s not.”
“She loves herself,” Common said about why Leslie is able to hold Scott’s attention. “She realizes that God created every person to be beautiful.”
“Men absolutely do judge a book by its cover,” Hamri said. “At first Scott McKnight is drawn to Leslie, but then he looks over and sees Morgan, who is completely calculating and knows how to make a man fall in love with her. The film is following those female relationships.”
Paula Patton takes a break from emotional, heartfelt roles (she was last seen as Gabourey Sidibe’s encouraging teacher in “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”) to play the self-serving character of Morgan, creating an interesting contrast to Leslie. A scene in the film where Leslie watches and cheers as the Nets play, while Morgan scopes out the players’ wives section of the audience and dreams of sitting there one day is a humorous and poignant snapshot of the ideals of two very dedicated, although different women.
Latifah continues to work to express herself and her views on the journey of womanhood in her second book, “Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom.” Latifah said that while the book was written to be a model of self-esteem for young women in a world that was harsh, she found herself writing about her past experiences that molded her into the woman she is today, such as the loss of her brother in a motorcycle accident and her Academy-Award nomination for “Chicago.”
“It has the moments that change me in it,” Latifah said of the book. “Those moments that stop you. For instance, when you’re on a train, and you get a whiff of perfume and suddenly you fall in love.”
“I’m having a conversation with the reader in the book,” she continued. “I’ll say how I dealt with experiences and my transitions and then there’s space for the reader to react. And it’s ultimately an experience in self-esteem and confidence.”
With the promotion of “Just Wright,” releasing her book and running her New Jersey-based production company, Flavor Unit, all on Latifah’s to-do list, she said she is constantly juggling, sometimes not so well. But she said it is worth it.
“I enjoy my work and I love what I do,” she said. “To me, this isn’t work.”
Erin Bell can be reached at email@example.com.