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  Love & Basketball Hoop Dreams
Year: 2000
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Harry Lennix, Debbi Morgan, Regina Hall, Shar Jackson, Gabrielle Union, Christine Dunford, Boris Kodjoe, Erika Ringor, Monica Calhoun, Tyra Banks, Kyla Pratt, Glenndon Chatman
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Basketball players Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) grew up next door to each other. They met as kids, when she asked to be part of his basketball game in his yard and he initially thought she was a boy, but she's actually a tomboy and after they shoot a few hoops he loses his temper when she is beating him and pushes her over, face down onto the ground. The result is a scar on her cheek, but something about Quincy has attracted her, and though she is unsure of her conflicted feelings, there is love kindling in her heart. As they get older, they cannot help but stay in touch, but basketball is Monica's true love...

Because of course nothing says "I love you" like scarring someone for life. Love & Basketball was part of the New Black Hollywood movement, though it was a little belated in catching the first wave of that in the early nineties, but it was notable for its director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who also penned the screenplay, was African American and female, a state of affairs that would have been unthinkable for most of the twentieth century. For that reason it was held up by critics and cultural commentators as an important movie, and it assuredly gathered a cult following down the years from fans of romance and sporting stories in cinema.

However, unless you were a major fan of basketball away from the cinema, it was unlikely if you would really see the appeal as depicted here, as Prince-Bythewood made no effort to engage anyone who was not already fully invested in the sport. It was like a film such as Hoosiers back in the nineteen-eighties: if you loved basketball this was going to be right up your street, and you would find the tale inspiring and be on your feet cheering at the finale, but if it left you cold, or even if you had never taken the time to find much out about the activity, you were inevitably going to be wondering what the fuss was all about as the characters got excited around something you had no interest in.

Now, it was well-acted, and the romance was as much a part of that plot as the basketball, but even here there were issues, as Quincy seemed unworthy of Monica's on-off again devotion, and not merely because of the scar he had inflicted on her which comes across as a metaphor for the impression he had made on her from a young age: nothing admirable, but she's stuck with it. The film was divided into four parts, taking in periods from the eighties to the nineties as Monica pursues her career in the sport she is obsessed with, though her mother (Alfre Woodard) disapproves, taking the lead from school to college to the professional leagues. But at regular intervals she breaks off from that to meet up with Quincy again, and he doesn't treat her well.

This is a man who appears to be guiding Monica through a strong relationship only to reveal that he is actually seeing someone else, and the way she finds out is when she visits his college dorm and wonders who this other woman is with him. And that's not to mention the fiancee business later on in the fourth quarter, which naturally she refuses to accept, something we have difficulty understanding. Fair enough, she's young and believes there was only one man for her, but she never grows out of that, and her stubbornness may be a personality trait, but it's a frustrating one, especially when the film never gives her an alternate option, someone who would treat her with the respect she deserves. We're supposed to see her choices as reasonable, and while that may apply to her career - she does well in the profession, predictably - for her love life it's a disaster. This despite her seeing the damage holding onto first love can cause in her and Quincy's parents, which comes over like a lesson but goes nowhere. Really, this was one for the basketball aficionados, the romance fans may be more discomfited. Music by Terence Blanchard.

[Love & Basketball is released on Blu-ray as part of The Criterion Collection, and here are the features:

New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Gina Prince-Bythewood, featuring additional footage cut from the original release and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Two audio commentaries from 2000: one featuring Prince-Bythewood and actor Sanaa Lathan and the other featuring Prince-Bythewood, editor Terilyn A. Shropshire, and composer Terence Blanchard
New making-of documentary featuring Prince-Bythewood, Lathan, actors Omar Epps and Alfre Woodard, producer and writer Reggie Rock Bythewood, and basketball adviser Colleen Matsuhara
Editing “Love & Basketball,” a new program featuring Prince-Bythewood and Shropshire
New conversation among Prince-Bythewood, WNBA legend and Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes, and writer-producer-actor Lena Waithe
Deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Prince-Bythewood and Shropshire
Audition tape excerpts
Two short films by Prince-Bythewood: her UCLA thesis film, Stitches (1991), and Progress (1997), with a new introduction by Prince-Bythewood
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by author Roxane Gay.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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