Starring Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Debbi Morgan, Harry J. Lenix, Kyla Pratt, Glenndon Chatman, Boris Kodjoe, Gabrielle Union, Monica Calhoun, Regina Hall, Tyra Banks
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
When I sat down to watch Love & Basketball, I assumed I’d be in for two things: love and… Ukrainian field hockey! Hahaha, no, I expected the basketball, and I wasn’t let down. Love & Basketball is indeed full of both love and basketball, but what I didn’t expect was a side-by-side look at men’s and women’s basketball. For me, this was by far the most interesting part of the film because of what it brings to light about the differences between the genders through the game of basketball. It’s not just about the game, it’s about life. I know that sounds kinda hokey and clichéd, but it’s the truth and Love & Basketball does a great job covering these themes it sets out for itself.
Our story begins in 1981, when Quincy and Monica are both 11 years old. Monica has just moved next door to Quincy and they meet when Monica asks if she can play basketball with Quincy and his friends. Quincy isn’t exactly nice to her, but she still seems to like him anyway, and thus our tale of love in-between the hoops begins. The film is structured in four quarters like a basketball game, sometimes making time jumps of multiple years between quarters. So even though we start in their youth, we are only there for a small section of the film.
Quincy is the son of an NBA player, and he seems destined to follow in his footsteps. He’s so focused on this goal that if he didn’t attain it, I don’t think the character would know what to do with himself. Basketball is life to him. Next door, Monica has her heart set on becoming the first woman in the NBA — a tall order indeed — but her skills on the court are great… as long as she can rein in her temper. Basketball is life to her, and she’ll do whatever it takes to make her dream come true.
Describing the characters like this makes the film sound rote and clichéd, and in some ways I guess it is, but it doesn’t feel that way while watching it. Even within these simple character descriptions are the seeds of what I love about the film. Quincy is privileged and used to his dreams being easily attainable. His father taught him that to be a man, the word “can’t” doesn’t have a place in his vocabulary. It’s a matter of “when” for Quincy, with everyone doting on him and inflating his ego throughout his life. I’m sure this character exists in many corners of America, as male athletes are often lauded and lifted up, especially those with connections like Quincy.
But Monica doesn’t live the same charmed life. She’s had to fight to get where she is, and she’s no stranger to hard work. As a female she’s also closer to her feelings, and coupled with her determined drive this makes her quite the feisty player on the court. But as a female these are not considered desirable traits, so she must stifle her instincts and learn to overcome her emotions to become the better player.
There are hints throughout the film of these insights, but it all comes into focus during an excellent montage showing Monica, playing in college now, conquering the emotional demons that hold her back as a player, while cross-cutting with Quincy as he is forced to deal with heartbreak and emotional betrayal for the first time. Instead of being able to find comfort and solace from his friends and teammates, Quincy retreats into his shattered psyche and his game suffers miserably. He probably should have seen it coming, but his childhood didn’t prepare him for something of this nature. It’s common to think of girls maturing quicker than boys, and this montage brilliantly illustrates this point solely with images.
My only real issue with the film is that Quincy’s character is a bit too flat and the final act (or fourth quarter, as it were) is much too contrived. Quincy’s one-dimensional life bothered me a lot while watching, but as the film was from Monica’s perspective it didn’t derail the film much. After watching, it dawned on me that Quincy’s character was written how almost every female romantic interest in a mainstream film written from the man’s perspective usually is, so the slight on his character doesn’t look so bad when viewed from this angle. The fourth quarter’s problems also stem from his character’s arc, but the film ultimately works in spite of this because we want it to work. Monica is such a determined, likable character that the film had to finish in the way that it did. I don’t know that I could’ve bared seeing it any other way, for her sake alone.
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Love & Basketball is a great romantic drama that’s more thick melodrama than it is romance. I mean that in the best way possible, but I think it’s also important to know what you’re getting into. A healthy love of basketball will help as well, although I think Love & Basketball is a great movie for anyone, regardless of your thoughts on hoops.