I wanted to walk away from Boogie feeling changed or moved
The elements that make up a coming-of-age film aren’t so much predictable as they are simply required. They include both internal and external obstacles in which the adolescent hero must overcome triumphantly. Simply put, to tell this type of story, “thems the rules”. The film Boogie, written and directed by Eddie Huang, is such a coming-of-age film. It is also a sports film, as the character Boogie is a talented basketball player, trying to secure an athletic scholarship. Seeing this journey from the perspective of an Asian American is uncommon in contemporary cinema. I was anxious to see how Boogie would adhere to the rules, and hopefully, how it would bend them.
Eddue Huang’s film is about Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) and his quest for basketball success and, by extension, Asian-American success. The aforementioned obstacles are placed by Huang in all the right spots and right times that the story requires. His script inundates Boogie with ancestral guilt from his parents. This fuels Boogie’s resentment for authority; he is disrespectful to his own coach and dismissive of his English teacher. It is these beats of the story that indeed are required. They aren’t handled with the grace that keeps the viewer invested. Predictability can be fun, but here it is rather painful.
Boogie is a transfer student to a smart school in Queens, New York that has a crippling basketball team. He is a talented ball player, and he knows it. The hope: the school wins a few games and Boogie gets a scholarship. He navigates adolescence like many do, awkwardly and clumsily. He models his behavior after hip-hop influences that glamorize being elite, being the best. This makes talking to women a sordid affair. He is cocky and arrogant. But that is his shield to hide his insecurities. He has a hot-tempered father and a headstrong mother. They see a future for Boogie, and that future is basketball prosperity. This exchange plays out in an opening flashback scene with his parents when they are young and pregnant, seeking the counsel of a fortune teller.
The film doesn’t slog as much as it races to the next plot point. He gets interviewed by talent scouts, argues with his coach, and sizes up his basketball rival, Monk (played by the late Pop Smoke). He opens his shell a bit in his English class; disclosing that reading about unrelatable characters is the antithesis of growing his own identity. He begins a relationship with a lovely young classmate named Eleanor (Taylor Paige), after he nearly blows it by being a creep in the school gym. She is reserved also, but the two share a connection that feels genuine. They allow themselves to be seen by the other. As with all teen sports drama, there is the inevitable turning point. This conflict appears when Boogie’s mother hires an agent on Boogie’s behalf. This relationship doesn’t net a paid scholarship but a chance to play basketball in China for a sizable salary instead. This, of course, does not gel with Boogie’s father who was the assuming manager for Boogie’s entire life.
The unbelievable third act comes paint-by-numbers, if paint-by-numbers came with an extra helping of convenience. Boogie’s rival, Monk, goads and bullies him, disclosing he had dated Eleanor before. Because of course he has. I never would have assumed Queens to be so small. The championship game between the two rival teams is scheduled, but is cancelled before it begins. One because it violates Boogie’s fancy new China contract, and two, both young men begin a fight right there on the court. So, the rematch - contracts be damned, apparently - is set at the rival team’s outdoor court under street lights. The coaches, the teams, seemingly the whole neighborhood is in attendance. After the game is over, with an unsurprising triumph for Boogie, he and Monk symbolically kiss and makeup. Street credit and respect are always the most valuable currency in these films. Thankfully, the film closes on a tender, intimate scene between Boogie and his girlfriend over dinner instead of wrapping up right there on the court. The pair question their future and their commitment moving forward. This is a better choice to end the film with. It isn’t the strongest ending, but it does bend the rules.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The dialogue in Boogie is plagued by a lockstep formulaic dribble commensurate with the pantheon of similar films that came before it. The banter between Boogie and his parents, his girlfriend, his best friend and his rival is as fresh as milk left out overnight. It is lumpy and mildly odorous, and I found myself pulling away more than gravitating toward it. The acting, while not having much to work with, limps through the film. The most explicit example of this was Boogie himself. The scenes calling for heavy emotional beats wind up as cringy and misplaced.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
There isn’t much to report in terms of make-up design or visual effects. I will say that the basketball scenes, while generic, are tastefully shot. If any of the cast wasn’t proficient with dribbling, shooting or passing beforehand, they did their homework for this film.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I won’t presume to know the latest, greatest or most relevant hip hop artist at any moment. And I won’t ever be accused of such an accolade. The modern hip-hop soundtrack does fit the setting and characters of the film, even if I can’t speak as to which songs were chosen and why. The song selections walk a fine line between immersing us more into the world of modern high school basketball and checking a stereotypical box. There is one tender scene between Boogie and his girlfriend which features a now-considered classic hip hop song from my youth. She gets me, I love the classics myself.
I wanted to walk away from Boogie feeling changed or moved. It took a chance on a familiar story with an Asian perspective, which should be interesting. Unfortunately, even though the virtues and values of an Asian culture are definitely woven through, the overall story doesn’t really change. I didn’t feel challenged, intrigued or invested. The main problem I had was with Boogie himself. I respect the facade he has to wear, balancing his dreams with the many tenuous relationships in his life. But he just wasn’t someone I wanted to root for. Believe me when I say that I’ve seen this movie before, and you’ve seen this movie before. But the versions we’ve seen before are all better than this film. The main character, Boogie, grows very little in this story. We, as viewers, grow even less.