Friday Film Review: Love and Basketball
Love and Basketball (2000)
Genre: Sports Romance
I’ve wanted to review this movie for over a year and finally got off my lazy butt when I realized that June 23rd was the anniversary of what’s come to be called simply Title IX. Now I’m probably one of the most unathletic people on the planet but for women who’d always been taunted as tomboys or told to stop playing sports and be a lady, this was a big deal in that it gave US women, especially in high school and college, a greater chance to participate in athletic competition. Though the original wording doesn’t specifically mention sports, impact studies claim that as of 2006, the number of women participating in high school sports has increased by a factor of nine while women’s participation in collegiate sports has increased 450% since passage of the law. I know that it’s helped my niece who is an avid athlete and who has played on many of her school teams. Okay, I’ll step down off my soapbox now.
In 1981 eleven year old Monica moves in beside Quincy in an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles. Initially neighboring rivals – he and his friends don’t want to play ball with a *girl!*, the two grow up through their high school days to both become basketball players. But while Quincy (Omar Epps) is lauded for his on court intensity, Monica (Sanaa Lathan) often finds herself chided, sometimes by her own mother (Alfre Woodard), for the same determined desire to win.
They both earn basketball scholarships to USC and continue their romantic relationship that started just as they were graduating from high school. But Quincy, who wants to play pro ball like his father, breaks things off after his relationship with his father (Dennis Haysbert) sours and he decides to quit college and go pro. Monica sticks it out and then finds that the only way she can continue to play after college graduation is to head to Europe far from family and friends. When the two meet again a few years later, is it too late to reclaim what they once had?
Despite the fact that I’m hyping this as a sports romance, please do not get the idea that it’s only about sports or that you have to know or enjoy basketball to like it. It’s more than that. In addition to the relationship between Monica and Quincy, there’s also their relationships with their parents and the expectations put on them based on their gender. But mainly, it’s one woman and her dreams to continue doing she loves and is good at. Another thing I enjoyed about the extras on the DVD is a feature in which female athletes of several generations discuss their love of sports and how the Title IX ruling changed what they could aspire to do and be.
I would recommend listening to the commentary track with the director Gina Prince-Bythwood and Sanaa Lathan. I knew Lathan wasn’t a basketball player but to listen to what she went through in order to even be able to audition for the part is amazing: months of hard work, physical conditioning and practice. And that was before she got the role. It helps to make her more physically believable in the role of a strong woman who stays strong throughout the movie.
Omar Epps and Lathan have great onscreen chemistry but physically their romance stays rather tame with only two major love scenes. The script is great with believable transitions in ages, experiences, feelings and emotions. While Epps might seem too short to be a believable pro basketball player, he’s got the cocky attitude that helps pull it off. When Monica appears ready to ditch her pro career and turn to making a living in a bank, I was resigned to her decision to retire from a game she loves in order to be near family and friends. But watch all the way to the end credits to see what ultimately happens.
The film mostly avoids triteness and overblown drama. It doesn’t preach at you for equality for women in sports. It just presents Monica’s life and lets you decide how to feel. Though the scene in which Monica changes Quincy’s mind about who to marry is a little far fetched, the payoff scene in the epilogue of the film more than makes up for it. If you’ve ever wanted something so badly you were willing to put any amount of work into getting it, give this movie a try. B