Love & Basketball (2000)

Rates: * * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? Part of the Blank Check podcast series on Gina Prince-Blythewood

Cast, crew, etc

Trailer

Two kids grow up in the same neighbourhood; they share a fence line, and a love of basketball. The boy, Q, has a father who was an NBA star, and dreams of following in his footsteps. The girl, Monica, is from a more conventional middle class household, but has the same dream. Their lives follow parallel tracks, leading to romance and a fateful stretch at the same college. But nothing, in love or basketball, comes easy.

Gina Prince-Blythewood’s grounded and tender romantic drama is an excellently crafted love story, that has a lot on its mind; one of the highlights of this movie is how successfully it incorporates so many different elements. It comments on black families moving to the suburbs, race relations more generally, sacrifices parents make for their kids, the difficulty of living in someone’s shadow, nonconformity, sacrifice, class differences, gender equality, economic inequity, adult relationships and choices, and friendship. And that is far from an exhaustive list.

And it is still romantic and funny. The story unfolds over an extended period of time, a bit like ‘When Harry Met Sally’, which allows you to see the characters making decisions, and their consequences. It really does feel like time is passing, and the principals are getting older, learning from their mistakes and developing as people.

Monica, perfectly played by Sanaa Lathan, has the harder road to follow. Her family are less understanding of her sporting ambitions, and the path to a professional sports career is much less clear for a woman. She has to fight to get what she wants, which focuses her drive and eventually brings success. Q, a slightly iffy performance from Omar Epps (the film’s only minor weak point), initially has an easier time, his natural talent and charisma opening doors. But upheaval in his family, his parents get divorced, destabilises him, and leads to a series of poor decisions.

Monica and Q break up, and life takes them in different directions. This is more of your classic film romance structure; the characters have to be separated, so that they can be reunited. But while you have seen this move before, it is executed perfectly, and the finale delivers a real emotional high. It is not just a happy ending: it’s progress. The characters have evolved, and now society is starting to as well, just a little. Monica will play in the newly formed WNBA, and Q appears ready for a more responsible life as husband and father.

A winning and optimistic movie about second chances, true love and determination.

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