Directed By Eddie Huang
Starring – Taylor Takahashi, Pamelyn Chee, Jorge Lendenborg Jr
The Plot – The coming-of-age story of Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Takahashi), a basketball phenom living in Queens, New York, who dreams of one day playing in the NBA. While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Boogie must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend (Taylor Paige), high school, on-court rivals and the burden of expectation.
Rated R for adult language throughout including sexual references, and some drug use
– Unique scope. Huang preserves a lot of heart and heritage to his film, enveloping his central plot with a vantage point in Asian athletics that hangs a lot of universal relevancy in this film, despite it being a very condensed coming of age story. He does this by briefly mentioning the limitations that these specific athletes have had, illustrating the lack of accomplishments as something that is every bit surprising as it is tragic to the abundance of exceptional Asian athletes who pursued their craft professionally. This grants the titular character, Boogie, a level of urgency that makes his coming of age story all the more important in breaking down walls and reshaping American perception, but at the same time emphasizes it with a layering of poignancy just beneath the surface. It gives the film stakes in a way that transcends the simplicities of basketball for one that doubles down on cultural relevancy, preserving stakes for a slice of life sports film that we rarely examine.
– Immersive setting. Cliche or not to say, New York is very much a character of its own in this movie, and it’s one that Huang articulates in the various form of production that helps carve out an identity of its own. It begins with the hip-hop dominated soundtrack, which feels unabashedly relevant as the heartbeat within the city that continuously beats throughout a majority of this film. In addition, the conversations and lifestyles feel enriched with honesty, the alluring shot compositions preserve a lot of meaning and sentimentality in the way they frame two particular characters in the unraveling context of the scene, and a fully-engaging sound design, which didn’t skimp on the commotion of the scenery. I was very much surprised at how much the presentation of the film played towards its strengths, as I expected a first time filmmaker would play it mostly straight forward, but Huang solidifies a visionary presence in the experimentation he inspires, overshadowing a faulty screenplay significantly for at least half of the battle.
– Commitment to craft. Authenticity is the name of the game, and when I mention that word, I am most definitely talking about Paige’s turn as the love interest for Boogie in the film. This is very much a distinctly different character than the one she portrayed in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, and one that requires her to do a lot of the heavy lifting on her way towards attaining a personality that constantly exudes energy to the film. Paige instills a Latina accent and flare that serves as a combustible ingredient to Takahashi’s Boogie, and it’s one that carves out various forms of chemistry that isn’t always of the appealing kind. In fact, much of the time between their dynamic is spent at odds with one another, and while Takahashi’s personality is mostly grounded towards feeling like a conventional teenager, it’s Paige who dazzles our captivation with a star-making turn that will definitely earn her more jobs in future projects.
– Short stay. Even as convoluted as this film eventually becomes with its second half execution, I am truly thankful that Huang knows exactly the kind of story that he has before him, and chooses to condense this film at 84 breezy minutes from start to finish. This not only keeps the lag time between initial set-up and payoff’s to a minimum, but also kept me from ever feeling truly bored or antsy with the duration of the picture. Some of that condensed time could be the blame for the lack of emphasis on some of these additional subplots needed to stir the compelling drama, but in my opinion this film is working best when its consistency mirrors that of the urgency in conflict that Boogie is facing to get answers on his undecided future, outlining a flash of speed in life that very many of us face in one of life’s most puzzling questions.
– Stumbling execution. On the surface level, “Boogie” has the ability to be a powderkeg of exploding drama that expandingly shakes these characters to their very core, but unfortunately Huang doesn’t capitalize on many of the unique aspects that make this family tick. For my money, Huang misses the mark because his film is every bit uneven and imbalanced as it is sporadic in what it chooses to focus on. Such an example exists in a consistent framing device, in which the film frequently flashes back to Boogie’s parents upon discovery of their pregnancy with him. Considering this is his film, this feels like an unnecessary outline, and one that initializes a disconnect from the central protagonist immediately and quite often throughout. From there, there’s some questionable decisions and character directions that made me scratch my head, as well as a series of situations that simply didn’t make sense if you know anything about basketball.
– On the nose. This is with the dialogue and transitions of sequences, which are so obvious and heavy handed at times that they virtually spell out the intention in the process. Some lines are laughably bad and offensively jarring, like Boogie telling his love interest on initial engagement “You have a cute vagina”, and others have characters audibly mapping out blueprints for what has to happen in order to attain something else. It’s overexplaining and a complete lack of depth that this film simply didn’t need, constantly outlining intentions in counterpoints for the screenplay that spoke volumes to its obvious intentions. It bottles the film up in a sloppy, exposition-heavy cloud of turmoil that undercuts the nuances of its uniqueness in heritage and setting, and fleshes them out with a script so evidently structured that you can almost spot the font changes and spaces between where they were typed up.
– Dropped ball. For as nice as the movie looks with Huang’s delicate framing and posture for the city he visualizes a loveletter for, the basketball sequences themselves resonated with little to no impact. Aside from constantly being undercut with an editing scheme that mimics a machine gun with a hundred rounds between it, the overhead drone footage between sequences completely takes us out of the heat of the game in favor for a style that doesn’t consistently match the artistic direction of what is presented around it. Finally, the action itself is unconvincing and full of choreographed inconsistencies with scenes stitched together that shows a particular character on two different sides of the court. Huang probably should’ve consulted someone else to shoot these sequences because they stand as the single worst element to his first time direction, as well as some of the worst shot sports sequences that I have ever seen.
– Unlikeable protagonist. Being that this movie is a coming of age story, and even goes out of its way during the opening scenes to tell us such, the character arc for Boogie is one that is full of flaws, and ultimately non-existent throughout the narrative. On the surface level, Boogie is a typical teenager; selfish, arrogant, and a chauvanist. A real revolutionary for empathy. Unfortunately, his evolution, or lack thereof, doesn’t silence any of this on the way to the film’s resolution. If this is the definition of what it means to transition into manhood, then I feel sorry for the youths of the world who interpret it to be as such. It’s one of least rewarding transformations that I have seen in recent memory, and has no business downplaying the importance of “The Catcher in the Rye”, a novel the teenagers discuss in class, to which Boogie calls Holden Caufield “No hero”. Bite your tongue, Boogie.
– One final blow. Over the course of the movie, we’re constantly being reminded of this big game coming up with the top team in the city, and what it means to Boogie’s potential future. This is of course saved for the film’s climatic third act, which is anything but due to one bonehead decision that I still can’t understand hours after seeing it. I will tread lightly here because of spoilers, but I can confidently say that the game isn’t quite what the movie makes it out to be, and instead moves towards an illogical resolution that is supposed to substitute for a happy ending?? It’s an insult to intelligence when you consider that it completely deconstructs everything established previously before it, and asks you to accept its answers as an unconventional measure towards the film’s setting, and what it means to be there. If that’s confusing, trust me when I say the resolution itself is no better. It takes these stakes and circumstances, and flushes them in favor for a game that is quite literally irrelevant.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-