Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Love and Basketball Scores At Being Well-Made Entertainment

Long-time next-door neighbors Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) have always harbored ambitions related to basketball. For Monica, those dreams entailed making history as the first woman to play in the NBA. For Quincy, it was all about living up to the legendary reputation of his basketball father Zeke McCall (Dennis Haysbert). Their shared passions eventually take them both to the University of Southern California, where they become a romantic couple. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and this one's no different. Most notably, problems arise once Quincy learns a devastating secret about his dad, all while Monica is busy trying to get any time on the basketball court.

The directorial debut for Gina Prince-bythewood (who also wrote the screenplay), Love & Basketball is a mighty charming creation. Here is a good example of taking a familiar story outline and infusing it with enough unique characteristics to make it fresh again. Sure, the story staples of romantic dramas are around in Love & Basketball. Yet, by grounding them in specific details that could only come from these characters, Love & Basketball is able to become its own movie. Prince-bythewood knows when to lean on the familiar but she also knows when to take a chance on something intimate and unique.

Take the scene where Monica prepares to go to her high school prom, for example. Plenty of movies have seen family members bonding over a pre-prom makeover. But Love & Basketball's take on this sequence is truly one-of-a-kind because of all the little poignant details scattered throughout the scene. Most notable among such details is Monica's mom, Camille (Alfre Woodard), taking the time during this makeover to talk to her daughter. Handing Monica a necklace, there's a moment of genuine bonding between mother and daughter. Previously, the duo have been antagonist due to their differing views on how Monica should behave; Camille believes Monica should give up basketball and be "more ladylike".

But here, just moments before Monica goes to her prom, there is a sense of warmth and understanding between Monica and Camille. It's such a lovely moment in a scene full of touching details. Also proving memorable here is just how excited Monica's older sister Lena (Regina Hall) is to give Monica makeover. You can feel the palpable sense of excitement and encouragement between the two sisters in this pre-prom sequence. That's the kind of underlying emotion that makes sure this Love & Basketball scene ends up being touching rather than derivative. It's also the kind of character-centric approach that makes the entire movie work as well as it did.

Gaze upon the end of Love & Basketball's second act for another example of how this movie's character-centric route spices up traditional romantic-drama story details. For any one of these movies, we all know the main couple has to break up by the end of the second act to create tension for the third act. Love & Basketball goes down the same road but it feels like an organic development rather than an obligatory story turn. This is simply because Prince-bythewood has developed Monica and Quincy enough as characters to make their break-up feel natural. You understand why they feel the way they do about each other, you know why they made the mistakes they did. Them breaking up feels like a natural progression fo the plot, not Prince-bythewood going down a checklist of romantic drama story beats.

While there's clearly real thought and craft going into making Love & Basketball as unique as it is, it pulls off those qualities quite effortlessly. This is another one of those crowd pleaser movies that's so enjoyable to watch that you don't realize the finer intricacies of its accomplishments until after the credits have rolled. Of course, one doesn't need a detailed breakdown to appreciate some of Love & Basketball's best features. Such features include Sanaa Lathan's terrifically engaging lead performance. Charming, relatable, an ability to execute both comedic lines and sell moments of romantic anguish. She's got all the qualities you want in a romantic drama lead. Combine her with Gina Prince-bythewood's filmmaking and writing skills, no wonder Love & Basketball scores as much as it does.

No comments:

Post a Comment