Written & Directed by Eddie Huang
Sports movies are among my absolute favorite to watch. My wife and friends like to tease me by calling me “Sporto”, and it’s true, I love my sports, and loving movies too, how could I not stan for any sports movie that comes on the scene. I’ve done baseball and football movie marathons, and while I haven’t yet gotten to a basketball movie marathon, I have one planned eventually in the future. That marathon will undoubtedly include this new film, Boogie. There will never be enough sports movies, but now especially it feels like not enough are produced anymore, but we did just also get The Way Back last year, the Ben Affleck driven basketball movie that was an entertaining entry. I would love for there to be a sports movie or two every single year. Take some shots. Not every one of them will be any good, that’s just the math and science of making movies, but I think the backdrop of sports is a wonderful canvas on which you can tell a number of different stories.
With Boogie we get a cultural look at the game with a player with a chip on his shoulder. Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is a Taiwanese-American who has spent his life with the dream of playing in the NBA. His parents relationship is a little on the rocks, with his father and mother wanting the same thing, but with very different methods. Boogie transfers to City Prep where he can highlight his skills in hopes of earning a Division I scholarship offer, but he’s only managing walk-on opportunities, largely due to his selfish play. Despite his talents, he doesn’t play the team game. But when his mother hires a manager named Melvin (Mike Moh), Boogie is forced to make a very difficult decision between his hopes and dreams, his girlfriend Eleanor (Taylour Paige), his cultural heritage, and his mission to take on and beat New York City’s best high school player Monk (Pop Smoke).
As a sports movie, this tackles some interesting dynamics, including college recruiting and team chemistry. Now, the recruiting is lightly touched on, and I’m not sure this is how recruiting works. A scout or two shows up to his games, the in-home visit felt real and genuine, but its not explored deep enough despite being a critical element to the story. As for the basketball sequences, we get snippets here and there, which is a good approach in a movie like this which is more individual focused and not team focused. We don’t need to see the team’s season, we just need to see Boogie. In that regard, it’s more a movie about his journey than it is the game itself. We do get the climactic matchup game to end the movie, but after the emotional development throughout the film, that scene ends the movie in more of a whimper than emotional crescendo.
There is plenty to latch onto throughout this story, principally the central romance between Boogie and Eleanor. I found this relationship to be one of the most interesting things about the movie, largely thanks to the performance from Taylour Paige, who is on the verge of a breakout between this film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom from last year, and the forthcoming Zola, which was buzzed about out of Sundance last year before the pandemic pushed it to this year. She is great here, with a really great energy and command of the screen. Takahashi is a little more disappointing in the lead, failing to hit all the nuances of his complex character. He never convinced me he was the alpha athlete we’re to assume he is. Certainly some of that is being broken down by his parents and that complicated relationship, but when he’s supposed to be a hot head, he’s not hot enough. When he’s supposed to be a trash talker, he’s not trashy enough. When he’s supposed to be a super star, I just don’t see it. Everything considered, this is a fine basketball movie, and perhaps I’ll like it more when I revisit it for my eventual marathon of basketball movies. But for now, I was a little underwhelmed.