Friday, March 5

Boogie Review


Dir: Eddie Huang

Starring: Taylor Takahashi, Taylour Paige, Pamelyn Chee, Perry Yung, and Pop Smoke


There is an undeniable formula that composes the structure of a basketball sports film. You'll often have a headstrong coach, a talented superstar who must understand their true potential and seemingly insurmountable odds that the team must come together to defeat. "Hoosiers," "He Got Game," and "Hoop Dreams," while entirely different basketball movies, still each embody the formula but in different ways. At the center of all these films are characters just like Alfred "Boogie" Chin (Taylor Takahashi), talented young men trying to balance the harsh realities of the world with the dream of playing basketball on the professional level. 


What separates writer/director Eddie Huang's film "Boogie" from other sports films it resembles is you don't often see basketball stories told from the perspective of a Chinese American protagonist. Huang understands the teenage sports melodrama, taking the familiar elements we are accustomed to and weaving components of culture, tradition, family dysfunction, and adolescent insecurity into the spaces that will ultimately frame the sports formula being manipulated.


Boogie has just transferred to a new elite private high school, one with a losing basketball record and desperate need for a superstar to lead them into the winning bracket. Boogie, however, is more concerned with how this opportunity can help him gain more exposure and help him receive a full scholarship from a top-ranked university. Boogie isn't just eyeballing a college scholarship, he has dreams of playing in the NBA and hopes of helping his family get out of the constant financial struggle they have been in since he was born. 


Boogie’s brash ego complicates the route into a college program. He is consistently at odds with his coach (Domenick Lombardozzi) to the point that he gets kicked off the bench and sent to the locker room because of his attitude and defiance; all this happens in clear view of a college scout who is watching from the bleachers. Making matters worse are Boogie's dysfunctional parents, Mr. and Mrs. Chin (Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee), who continually tear into one another and often use Boogie as the bargaining vessel for their anger and frustration. Both parents see a life for Boogie that is strictly their own.


Huang does a great job of composing the core relationships for Boogie. When the family is sitting around the dinner table, talking about the future and what Boogie might do to make it to the next level, they are wonderfully composed. Pamelyn Chee, playing Boogie's mom, is completely convincing in her cold and impatient demeanor. Perry Yung, playing Boogie's dad, also has a few shining moments, one in particular when he talks about the importance of the 1989 French Open match between Michael Chang and Ivan Lendl, he calls it "the greatest moment in Asian American history." 


However, the film's shining star belongs to Boogie's love interest, Paige, played with confidence and energy by Taylour Paige. Her character challenges Boogie, forcing him to see beyond the self-pity of a problematic family, uncertain future ambitions, and the cultural identity that consistently plays a role in Boogie's decisions. Taylour Paige is magnetic throughout the film.


Unfortunately, even with such interesting characters, the narrative is a mess of unnecessary sports and teenage melodrama troupes that undermine Huang's realistic and authentic approach. The pacing fluctuates; in one moment, you are provided a fascinating conversation about race and growing up in strict cultural boundaries. In the next moment, you get a lackluster basketball scene that is devoid of energy or tension. For a film that balances much of the dramatic stakes for Boogie on a basketball game against a city legend named Monk, the first and final performance from Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, killed in February 2020, the build-up doesn't work. The showdown feels like an average regular-season game instead of the championship it should resemble. 


Eddie Huang displays an engaging filmmaking style that will hopefully continue to develop as he makes more movies. The characters are fascinating to watch, and the story of a young man trying to carve a path through culture, family issues, and adolescence can be amusing from Huang's perspective. Unfortunately, "Boogie" struggles most with finding a balance between these elements and the sports story it is trying to tell.


Monte's Rating

2.75 out of 5.00

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