Film review: Boogie (2021), written and directed by Eddie Huang
tl;dr: Taiwanese-American basketball prodigy is torn between fulfilling his parents ambition and following his heart.
Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is a basketball prodigy in Queens with his sights set on getting a full scholarship to a sports college. From there he could go all the way to the NBA. His father (Perry Yung) is dead set on him beating the best basketball player on the circuit, Monk (Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson), maybe then the full scholarship offers will come rolling in. His mother (Pamelyn Chee) is frustrated that her son only gets offered college places without scholarships.
Meanwhile, Boogie also has to attend high school, where the teacher (Steve Coulter) assigns them The Catcher in the Rye to read and discuss. He would like to work with Eleanor (Taylour Paige) on this, a.k.a. the girl he fancies, but defaults to his friend Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), who also couldn’t get to work with the girl he fancies. Okay, who works with whom in an English assignment isn’t actually relevant, but is the easiest way to introduce the characters and their actors.
The film is essentially Boogie trying to get on with his life. He’s getting to know Eleanor, he plays basketball with his friend, he gets several offers of college places but none with that crucial full scholarship. He tries to live up to his parents expectations, he’s arrogant enough to be benched by the school coach (Domenick Lombardozzi) at the end of a match because he can’t control his temper, he watches Monk play to learn his moves, he tries to balance his New York upbringing with his parents’ Taiwanese values, he goes to school, he has a complicated relationship with a manager (Mike Moh) hired by his mum, and so on.
Perhaps it’s a coming of age story. There is a lot of talk about how The Catcher in the Rye is one of those. I haven’t read it, but reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia I can definitely understand Boogie’s assessment of the main character. He doesn’t have the privilege that Holden Caulfield does, nor is he half as whiny, but he does act very entitled at times. At the same time I still sympathise with Boogie. He’s trying his best, and considering how pushy his parents are, that’s admirable.
The problem is that I have zero interest in basketball, so any time there’s sportsball involved I tend to switch off mentally … except when one of one’s favourite actors is on screen. As Mr T put it when he saw me watching this: “Why are you watching a film about basketball?! – Ohh, that guy’s in it.” Funnily enough, no, I don’t tend to watch sports films for the love of the game. If one of my favourite actors are in it, on the other hand? Even if it’s not a big role? Of course I’m watching it! In fairness, I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve seen Domenick Lombardozzi in to date. His filmography is a great rabbit hole to go down, because there are quite a few gems in there.
The whole cast is great, I should point out. Pamelyn Chee’s performance was especially notable, in that she genuinely made me dislike the mother, while also sort of seeing her point at the same time. The father I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to like or not. Taylor Takahashi did a stellar job as Boogie, balancing cocky basketball prodigy with angsty teenager very well. I wish we could have seen more of Uncle Jackie (played by the writer-director), because his character amused me. Or maybe it’s just that his IBS problems were relatable.
The most interesting thing I took from this is learning more about Taiwanese culture, like how the youngest is the one to serve tea to their elders. That, and the culture clashes, were more interesting to me as an outsider than the “I want to be a professional basketball player” plot. The thing is, Boogie isn’t an underdog story as such, because while he’s poor and can’t go to college without a full scholarship, the odds aren’t exactly stacked against him in other ways. Eleanor warms up to him rather quickly, for instance, and he genuinely is the best player on the team. He just needs to work on becoming more of a team player.
As for the ending, I’m not sure what conclusions we were meant to draw from it. Sometimes ambiguous endings are great, and other times it’s like “wait, you forgot to actually give it an ending”. For Boogie, I have no idea if he had decided to stay or go, but then I also don’t really get subtext as a thing, so maybe it was super obvious to others. Or maybe Boogie’s potential basketball career wasn’t actually the point of the film anyway, just him realising he needed to be a team player in more areas of life than just sportsball.
It’s a nice little film if you like basketball (I don’t), or Asian-American culture differences (interesting for sure), coming of age stories (maybe if I wasn’t old enough to be his mother?), or films with a hip hop soundtrack (no thank you), or films set and shot in New York City (yes please). On the whole it wasn’t my cup of tea, clearly, but it wasn’t bad by any means, just maybe not all that memorable. But your mileage may vary. The “allow me, I’m the youngest” is probably the thing that will stick with me the longest.
3 out of 5 beef and broccoli dishes.