Review by Dan Skip Allen
A good sports film has to have a hook to get the viewer invested in the characters, story, and concept of the film. Boogie does two of the three. The main character is interesting and his backstory is fascinating. The problem is the film doesn't have a hook that brings it all together in the end.
The title character of "Boogie", Alfred (Taylor Takahashi), is a Chinese-born American citizen. His parents were Chinese nationals who immigrated to America. Young Boogie is a teenager now and he's a basketball player in Queens with dreams of getting a scholarship at a top ten school to play basketball, then go to the NBA, which is easier said than done, of course.
Boogie's parents are not hard on him in different ways. When it comes to sports, parents can give their kids tough love because they want them to be the best they can be. As far as his parents go, they have their lineage to throw in his face. The Chinese heritage he is from means a lot to his parents. Quite a few scenes are set at the dinner table where their customs are on display. The food also looks amazing in the film.
Along with his parents, Boogie has his teammates, opposing players, and burgeoning love interest, Eleanor (Taylour Paige). Even though she has a bad history with ballplayers, she is still wooed by Boogie. He takes her out to experience his culture via restaurants. Their relationship is a genuine one. The opposition of the rival school has a player named Monk (Pop Smoke) who has a reputation of being the best in the five boroughs. This is just a challenge for Boogie to prove he's better.
The drama in the film unfolds in a very familiar way. The main character has his ups and downs. The plot does have some twists and turns, though. Mike Moe (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) plays a character named Melvin who interjects himself into the family dynamic. Sports films frequently have these types of characters.
Director Eddie Huang, who also has a small role in the film, is obviously versed in this culture, especially the food aspect of the film. He is a writer, restaurateur, and television personality. His restaurant is in the East Village of New York. This culture clearly means a lot to him. He uses a framing sequence to get some of the subtexts of the film across. It just didn't work for me. It just came across as contrived and unnecessary.
Having been involved in high school basketball for many many years, I can say teenagers like the newest most cutting-edge music that represents them and their feelings and their way of thinking. That being said, the overlaying soundtrack in Boogie represents an inner-city lifestyle. This is put in to make the film seem tougher. These characters live a tough life in the inner city and they listen to tough music. This is a falsity. That music didn't have to be over the film to represent the neighborhood to show these characters have grown up tough.
The basketball in movies can be a bit cartoonish at times. That said, Huang did his homework on the basketball scenes in the film. It was very authentic from the running of the plays to the ball screens and picking and rolling. This looked like actually basketball games were being played from my perspective.
Boogie has a lot going for it: the actual basketball, the interpersonal relationships between the parents, his girlfriend, and the antagonist, and solid direction from a novice filmmaker. The biggest problem I had was the framing sequence didn't work for me. It was supposed to pull at the heartstrings and give credibility to the parents, Boogie, and the overall plight he is in. It just didn't work for me. This film had a lot of potential that was somewhat wasted. It's hard to get all the pieces right in a good sports film.
Boogie hit theaters on March 5.