Movie Review By Casey McCabe
Anytime the game of basketball is an integral part of a movie, you can typically expect that a) it will feature angry young black men looking for a ticket out of the ghetto and b) everything comes down to one last-second, heart-stopping, slo-motion shot.
The new film "Love & Basketball" is a welcome break, and a genuinely sweet little picture. It's about love. It's about basketball. It's about loving basketball, though that's not a requisite for liking the movie. It also takes place in that most unusual arena for Hollywood films: the African-American suburban middle class.
Quincy McCall played by Omar Epps, is the son of Zeke McCall, a professional NBA player, albeit for the Los Angeles Clippers. Quincy, as they say, has the game in his genes and a life that stretches before him like an uncontested layup. He could be expected to have some serious attitude, but for the most part it's amusing. Then there's the banker's daughter, Monica Wright, played by Sanaa Lathan. She's got the game in her soul. Which was not a very convenient place to have a basketball if you were a girl in the early 1980s. Which is probably why she has twice the attitude of Quincy, who, by the way, has been her next door neighbor since they were both fiercely competitive 11 year olds.
Now you don't need a playbook to see where this is going. Our two leads have everything in common, a relationship built on a long, abiding friendship, and a playful twinkle in their eyes whenever they're around each other. But it's well into the film before Monica finally surrenders to her gender and Quincy finally recognizes that hey, the girl's got GAM! The tomboy to Cinderella transformation, a hammy device in so many movies, is actually quite endearing here. It's more of a gentle awakening, and a non-binding one at that. Monica is allowed to both appreciate her beauty and embrace the pure jock within. The face, triceps and understated acting of Ms. Lathan make this all more seamless than we'd have any right to expect.
More amazing than seeing so many blacks in so many healthy roles is seeing a sports film that tilts to the women's side of the game. A little less surprising when you learn it was written and directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, a former all-around athlete herself. Some of her choices have a whiff of political correctness. But most of them simply make for a more interesting story. Oh, there are plenty of cliches in this movie. And the cute "four quarter" structure given the film isn't perfect. Like many an NBA game I've witnessed this year it gets slow and deliberate in the third quarter, saving its legs for the finish. Still, "Love & Basketball" takes smart shots, plays to entertain, and talks very little trash.
And at the risk of sounding like a critic pandering for a quote: this is, slam dunk, the best date movie out there.
© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 4/19/00
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