BOOGIE – Review
Though film fans may not acknowledge it, several other entertainment venues have had a tough time getting by in the past year. Just a few miles from the shuttered multiplex there were the empty stadiums and sports arenas. Now many more theatres are starting to open their doors once more (hey Big Apple and Tinsel Town), and the prospect of watching live baseball in a few weeks has many fans ecstatic. But there’s another sport just finishing up, allowing a few fans in, and adding another pandemic phrase for the “new normal”. That would be the basketball “bubble” that’s had a bumpy history. This new release is set in the before days, with a high schooler “baller” dreaming of the “big show”. But his parents are also counting on his “dream”. That and the pressure of representing his unique cultural community weigh heavily on the shoulders of the teen “hoop sensation” nicknamed BOOGIE.
His story actually begins just months before his birth in 2001 as a fortune teller tries to convince a young Chinese-American couple to stick together for their baby. Jumpcut to 2019 as that child, the lanky high school senior named Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) has used his considerable basketball skills to gain entry into an elite NYC prep school. He cruises through his courses with the help of his best pal and teammate Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) while trying to “make time” with the dazzling Eleanor (Taylour Page). These activities take a back seat to his efforts to be noticed by college scouts. But the big pressure comes from his folks, who are still together despite their clashes. Mr, Chin ( Perry Yung) is on parole after an assault conviction, and ekes by as a runer for sports gamblers, while his missus (Pamelyn Chase) tries to keep them from drowning in debt. They believe Boogie could be their winning ticket if he can nail down a college scholarship which would lead right into the NBA. Unfortunately, Boogie alienates the scouts with his on-court “showboating” and inability to adhere to Coach Hawkins’ (Domenick Lombardozzi) plays. When he’s not playing, Boogie spends his evening at an outdoor court called “the Barracks’ which is ruled by the swaggering “B-ball” bully known as Monk (Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson). They’ll face-off soon, and Boogie hopes to be ready. But as their match approaches, things at home heat up as his mom brings in a “wannabe” sports again named Melvin (Mike Moh), who gets an offer from the pros…in China. His folks are truly split on this idea, while Boogie ponders these options as things begin to heat up with Eleanor. But before contracts can be signed he has to reign in his ego and prepares to take on Monk in a game that could decide his, and his family’s, entire future.
In his screen acting debut, Takahashi proves he has the dramatic skills to match his athletic prowess, looking confident on and off the court in the title role. In school, he’s all “laid back” as he teases Richie and works his line on Eleanor (one of his “compliments” should have gotten him suspended at least), but in his quiet time, we see the at-home tensions in his sad, downturned eyes. His folks are pulling him from all sides, often using him as a weapon on each other. Boogie works out those conflicts on the court, but he frustrates the audience and his peers with his casual arrogance, but Takahashi still has us rooting for him. Luckily Paige as Eleanor brings out his tender side, even as she projects a tough, “don’t play me” attitude as she strips away his sports “swagger”. Much of the same can be said of Lendeborg Jr. as his confident/defender who tires of being the “gatekeeper” to Boogie, enduring endless questions from his Coach, played with a “tough love” concern along with endless patience by Lombardozzi. As for the basttling Chins, both have been “beaten down” by life, with that frustration often exploding at each other and their son. For Yung, he views his son as a way to express his cultural pride, and perhaps a way to shake his ex-con stigma. Chee’s much more of a “hard case”, a version of the pop culture “tiger mom”, who’s unable to express any maternal affection for fear it will take Boogie’s mind off “the prize”. And while they act out (lots of destroyed dishwares), they are still moments of unexpected tenderness. Moh, who we last saw as Bruce Lee fighting Brad Pitt, conveys the right amount of silky-smooth sleaze as the low-rent Jerry Maguire with a financial interest in Boogie and a personal one in his mom. Fortunately, the film has a great villain in Jackson who has a truly terrifying gaze as the gifted thug Monk who will go to any lengths to win.
And this is another debut, behind the camera (and script). Restaurateur, clothing designer, author, and sitcom-creator (ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”) Eddie Huang can now add feature film writer/director to his list of accomplishments. Huang never appears to hit a false note with his glimpse into this culture barely explored on our shores, making a gritty urban companion to the recent MINARI. There’s a yearning from the characters to break out of the stereotypical roles US society wants to impose. In one scene Boogie’s pop makes him watch a big tennis match from the 90s, hoping he’ll be swept up in a major sports victory for a Chinese-American. Huang captures the rhythms of the crowded streets along with the flirty exchanges between Boogie and his pal and Eleanor and his BFF. The pace shifts to the game sequences as Huang puts us right in the middle of the “organized chaos” as Boogie seemingly ignores any pleas for the ball from the other players, while the Coach can only swallow his anger with a few ineffectual vocal bursts of “C’mon!”.Much of that is true in the domestic battles as mother and father vie for domination, as Boogie looks on with tired regret. And though it ends with the “big game”, as most sports films do, Huang doesn’t indulge in the usual cliches (a shift to slow motion as the music swells). As family drama and coming of age basketball fable, BOOGIE scores.
3 out of 4
BOOGIE is now playing in select theatres.