Synopsis: While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a basketball phenom living in Queens, N.Y., must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend, high school, on-court rivals and the burden of expectation.
Stars: Taylor Takahashi, Taylour Paige, Pamelyn Chee, Perry Yung, Mike Moh, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson, Alexa Mareka, Dave East, Domenick Lombardozzi, Eddie Huang
Director: Eddie Huang
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: It’s been said (and written about by Christopher Booker) that there are only seven basic plots and every movie, tv show, or book can fit into one of these categories. Aside from these seven, there is what is known as the meta-plot and I think that’s where a film like coming-of-age dramas such as Boogie fit in. The meta-plot proposes that although the work may have a wealth of characters that revolve around the central figure, the plot is only ever truly concerned with that main protagonist, the “hero”. All of the other characters become important because of how they connect with that “hero” and that’s why everyone, eventually, becomes important to us. That winds up making a lot of sense to me when you apply that to classics like Stand by Me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Clueless, Sing Street, Lady Bird, or even an off the wall choice like Carrie. If only Boogie were more in line with the caliber of those films, it could be a title we’d still be talking about one or two decades in the future. Alas, it’s a frustratingly lifeless tale with little in the way of surprise over 89 minutes, demonstrating a dismal sense of creativity in how writer/director Eddie Huang chooses to take his shot on his debut feature.
A fortune teller predicts the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Chin will be rocky but their child has a good chance at success, which is prosperous news for the couple hoping for a better life in Queens, N.Y. Years later, Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is a hot-headed basketball player entering a new high school chosen for it’s marching bad…just kindding. Of course Boogie’s parents have chosen it for its basketball team, though it’s not exactly the kind of group to get hyped about. The hope is that his presence on the team will turn their luck around and that by doing so and taking the credit he will earn a full ride scholarship to a college, paving the way to a professional career. At least that’s the long-term plan according to his always hustling mother (Pamelyn Chee), much to the continued chagrin of his less strict father (Perry Yung) who cares more that his son is happy experiencing freedom in his fast-moving life than anything.
His thoughts always on the game, a pleasant distraction shows up with the feisty Eleanor (Taylour Paige, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) a girl in his class who doesn’t give him any kind of pass because of his skills on the court. Eleanor challenges Boogie to think about more than just basketball and outside of his own personal goals, which increases the growing rift between him and his mother. As an important game draws near with a rival team lead by the imperious Monk (Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson, who tragically was killed in 2020 before the movie could be released) and with a family acquaintance acting as his unofficial agent on the authority of his mother, Boogie finds himself at a crossroads and having to choose between his family and his future, realizing too late they might overlap more than he thinks.
The problem from the outset of Boogie is that there’s nothing overtly new or interesting being relayed to us so watching the film feels as if we’re seeing a repeat of an old episode, albeit one we can’t quite remember the exact ending of, though we definitely know how it ends. In films like the documentary Hoop Dreams, or dramas such as Above the Rim or, heck, even White Men Can’t Jump, we get a look at the perils of the urban basketball scene and how a home court advantage might only protect you within a small city block, but you can’t stay near the net forever. So that means all of the fuss that Boogie takes on in its final thirty minutes feels quite a lot like warmed over leftovers from better films. All we have to do is sit back and wait for the final full court press and reconciliation on an empty court after the crowd has dispersed.
It pains me to say it, but the performances also don’t serve the story either, starting with Takahashi’s bland showing as the title character. Charmless with little in the way of a leading man’s charisma that would have gone a long way in improving our engagement with the film, Takahashi manages to turn us away from Boogie the more the movie goes on instead of trying to win us over. It’s odd the way he alienates himself so soundly by the end. Same for Chee as his mother, though in her slight defense she’s playing someone who’s behavior we’re supposed to be agog at. Even so, there’s some of her line delivery that you can tell she has no confidence in. And either she looks as young as her son or Takahashi comes off as old as she is but their relationship felt more like sibling than like a parent and a child. On the good side of things, Paige is a standout as Eleanor, and she acts circles around her onscreen love interest as does Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Bumblebee) playing Boogie’s best friend and confidant. I wish Paige and Lendeborg Jr. were in a stronger movie that represents them better.
Another thing I found strange about the film is how poorly the basketball scenes were shot. Boogie is supposed to be this phenom of an athlete, yet cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz (Ready or Not) makes it appear as if Takahashi’s and his teammates not only learned to dribble a basketball a few weeks before the shoot but also mastered walking and talking around the same time. I sometimes dread “The Big Game” in sports movies but this was resoundingly bad because there is just no energy or excitement in the final match. This is also partly to do with the editor not cutting it correctly, but the coverage had to be there to begin with so…the blame could go plenty of places. Instead of Huang instilling some stakes for Boogie to hang his future on, that final meeting between him and Monk with everyone looking on seems like just another day at the office. They aren’t taking it seriously so why would we?
I’m not quite sure who Boogie was made for. It’s overly foul language and tendency to go for a crude joke (Boogie’s first line to Eleanor as she’s working out is one for the ‘no thank you’ record books) makes it too adult and adults will be put off by the juvenile antics of Boogie and his friends. As the original creator of Fresh Off the Boat on ABC, Huang clearly has a voice and point of view that needs to be heard and represented, Boogie just doesn’t cut it as the kind of entertainment that can convincingly win a crowd over.