In 2011, "Just Write" is 102-minutes of "buh" and "huh," but back in 1997, it was likely just another cheap indie romantic comedy lost in the shuffle. Pairing Jeremy Piven and Sherilyn Fenn as a relatively down-to-earth, opposites attract couple is the first eyebrow raiser in hindsight, with Piven cemented in the entertainment history as wildman Ari Gold, while Fenn herself is probably best remembered for her iconic performance as Audrey Horne on the early 90s television classic "Twin Peaks." However, together playing such safe roles turns out to be the against type casting that makes an otherwise banal and eventually miserable film such as "Just Write" minimally tolerable.
Promising viewers with quirky exchanges between tour bus driver Harold (Piven) and A-list star Amanda (Fenn), "Just Write" delivers a first act that covers all the genre conventions while managing to not pander to viewers giving Harold and Amanda smarts things to say, bringing the two together through a comic mishap and keeping things going with their mutual love and connection to film. However, once Harold is forced to immerse himself in Amanda's world and the ballyhoo ensue as he must keep up his charade of being a high-profile screenwriter, writer Stan Williamson's script folds under the pressures of trying something new and instead reverts to tired cliché after tired cliché while director Andrew Gallerani steers his film towards broad, eye rolling set pieces that will get up the dander of the hopeful viewer expecting something different.
Together Fenn and Piven have great on-screen chemistry, but anytime either have the misfortune of pairing off with any of the film's supporting caricatures, "Just Write" colorfully proclaims its refusal to advance the romantic comedy genre past the first act. As the romance between our two leads kicks up a notch, a number of secondary plot complications arise, from Amanda's slick on-again/off-again suitor played by Costas Mandylor (you'll be pining for his "Saw" days after watching him here) to Harold's well-meaning but stock meddling father who on a story level is forgettable, but on a performance level is fascinating as actor Alex Rocco seems more focused on doing a George Segal impression than delivering a convincing line reading. Lazily and predictably when a gap in the story pops up, another broad bit part is shoehorned in; expect Wallace Shawn as Harold's temporary agent, Jo Beth Williams as Amanda's always-on-the-phone agent, and Yeardley Smith as a bizarre date for Harold arranged by his father.
All justified and obvious negativity aside, "Just Write" isn't nearly as insufferable as the trite drivel that passes for genre fare nowadays. Piven is a considerably more solid leading man than Adam Sandler who seems to have the market on this stuff, while Fenn often operates as if she's in another movie, it's fascinating and baffling at the same time. As a film fan I enjoyed the banter the two shared and applaud the writer for making some references to the obscure that the average viewer might not instantly recognize. Ultimately the inconsistent tone in the quieter scenes and the ensemble pieces is what unravels the story; quite literally you get our two leads discussing the writing process followed by the two at a party full of loud stereotypes spewing out terribly dated buzzwords, all attempting to one up one another in the scenery chewing department. "Just Write" is a notable effort that should have heeded its own in-movie advice and taken the time to work on the script before jumping head first into filming.
The 1.33:1 aspect ratio transfer appears to be cropped from a wider ratio, likely 1.85:1 as the top and bottom of the frame never feels overly cramped, but the action on the sides looks iffy at times. Detail is average at best, while colors have a slight haze sapping any feel of vibrancy from the picture. Compression is minimal while no other signs of digital tinkering hank what is by and large, a disappointing, dull transfer.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track makes sure you here every note of the sappy, generic mid-90s alternative soundtrack, while still managing to keep dialogue running smoothly and without distortion. While the balance between effects, score and dialogue could have been tighter, the aural experience of "Just Write" is not impressive, but far from the disappointment that the visual experience was.
The film's trailer is the lone extra.
While Piven and Fenn make an interesting on-screen duo, "Just Write" is too uninspired to remain a romantic-comedy staple. 14 years after release a lot of the set-in-Hollywood hullabaloo comes off as dated and cringe worthy further crippling the empty second and third acts. Add to that the unacceptable technical presentation and this is one of those one-and-done afternoon time wasters. Rent It.