Love and Basketball

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Debbi Morgan.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 27, 2000

One of the best documentaries of recent years (and, according to Roger Ebert, the best film of the 1990s) was Hoop Dreams. It chronicled the lives of two boys as they pursued their dreams of playing professional basketball from ages 13 through college. It was a compelling story, and a monumental film, because the subjects had grown up with little hope of success outside of basketball. Now, a fictional story is presented of two upper-class kids -- a boy and a girl -- that want to play basketball because it beats getting an Ivy League education. I thought fiction was supposed to enhance truth to be more interesting, not more conventional.

In a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) wants to be in the NBA someday, just like his dad (Dennis Haybert), who once played for the Clippers. When he was eleven, a girl named Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) moved in next door, and she wants to be the first woman in the NBA. They try to be a couple when they first meet, but romance between them would have to wait until senior year of high school.

They both get recruited to the University of Southern California, and continue to go out in college. Quincy is the star of the men's team, but Monica has to fight harder to prove herself on the women's team. Quincy has problems with his family and new tensions in his relationship with Monica, so he decides to go pro early. >From then on, it's a struggle between love and... well, you know the title.

That's right! It's Love and Basketball, and that is the basic theme of the film. It starts out very well, with a cute coming-of-age story. The scenes of Quincy and Monica as little kids (played by Glenndon Chatman and Kyla Pratt) are by far the best part of the film, and when they are over, the story just slowly dies. The originality is gone, and we are left with a most predictable romantic drama.

Epps has been an impressive actor since his breakthrough role in John Singleton's Higher Learning. He is very likable, and has a natural quality on the screen, which helps keep this film from getting too boring. This is Lathan's first starring role, having small parts last year in Life, The Best Man, and The Wood (where she has a brief appearance as Epps' old girlfriend, all grown up). She does a fairly good job, but supporting the whole film at times was a bit too much for her.

You can probably guess how this films ends (I certainly did, from the trailer alone), and based on this review you could see how unsatisfying it is. Love and Basketball is just a modern fairy tale, complete with a prince and a princess. The men who grew up in Hoop Dreams didn't necessarily live happily ever after.

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Love and Basketball (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan