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All’s Fair in Love and Basketball

October 12, 2009

Sports movie is a kind of funny thing for me. I have little to identify with the topic, having never been a tomboy myself, but it’s the most spirit lifting genre of film for me. There is a genuineness in the essence of an athelete’s struggle, a ferocity in the determination of their actions. They are in constant battle with themselves, challenging their bodies, pushing their minds, a relentless pursuit to the ultimate…what? It’s often not even about the money, it’s about personal fulfillment of a self prophecy. There is something noble  in that kind of a pursuit. Same with films about extreme adventures, they take me with them on the journey and I gladly tag along.

Love and Basketball”(2000)  is both a love story and a life story.  Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it begins in 1981 in L.A. and follows the lives of two basketball players, Monica and Quincy, from childhood to adulthood. Along the way, the film delicately and accurately observes the obstacles they face while juggling love, career, and family. Despite a few cliche scenes of the typical teenage angst, the film remains delightfully true to its characters and their humanity. It is a very believable story.

In 1981, a family moves into an affluent L.A. neighbourhood. Monica finds herself living next door to Quincy, and their first meeting takes place on the basketball court. Quincy pushes her in a play and she falls, leaving a small scar on her right cheek that will stay with her for the rest of her life. She somehow doesn’t mind. He thinks she’s different and for reasons he doesn’t quite understand yet, asks her to be his girl. “What do I have to do?” she asks. “We can play ball and ride to school together and when you get mad I gotta buy you flowers.” the boy thoughtfully replied. Monica doesn’t like flower. They kiss, a most innocent exchange, and then Quincy wants her to ride on his handlebars to school and she refuses. Monica wants to ride her own bike. Quincy argues that his mom always follows his dad. She doesn’t want to do what he tells her to do, and so begins the courtship of a lifetime.

They both end up playing for their highschool teams and later on, college teams. In between, romance inevitably blossoms between the boy and the girl and they fall in love. Temptations, obligations, and distractions are never far away in a professional athelete’s life, and their love is challenged time and time again. Eventually, they both become that of their childhood dreams – she gets recruited for a professional league in Spain while he enters the NBA. The ending, however, surprises us not in a typical ticking clock sports climax, but in a quiet beginning of a new life. 

Sanaa Lathan, who plays the adult  Monica,  is a gem in this role. She blends tomboy stubborness with feminine pride, and it is easy to root for her. Omar Epps is believable as Quincy, down to the nuanced personal faults that comes with being a pro basketball player. He is never too sweet, and that is the way it should be. Monica and Quincy grew up together, shared the same passion, and comforted each other in ways the outside world could never be. In a way, they are destined to be together. However, what brings them together is also the biggest threat in tearing them apart. A professional sport is just that, a profession. It comes with obligations and sacrifices, some more than most. Put two of these together and double the obligations and sacrifices. It is also risky. One wrong move can change everything. Both Quincy and his father know that well.

I like this movie for its honesty in the portrayl of young human lives. It’s the first movie that I’ve seen where  the girl and the boy go to a school formal and do not get into a huge fight and secrets  get  revealed. Instead, the reveal comes afterwards, in private, like most  normal people prefer. Note the college party scenes where Quincy gets drunk – he doesn’t get into a huge fight, instead, he goes home to crash, like most normal people do. When they have sex, she is nervous and he takes the time to use protection, and that is certainly what most normal people do and should do, and the film doesn’t shy away from these real mements for sugar sweet dramatic flourishes. It is these moments of realism and honesty that suck us in, make us believe, and lead us to the final climax at the end that takes place, where else, on a basketball court. It’s not said, but it’s likely the same one that they met more than ten years ago, when they were both only 11. From that first encounter, she was physically marked forever with his move. And perhaps from that moment on, even before she understood it, she carried a piece of him with her love for basketball. And with a girl like her, who can challenge him on the court, stands her ground with him off the court, unfazed by his fans and ego, and offers him a safe harbor on the floor of her bedroom, did he ever stand a chance? Bringing them together or driving them apart, the basketball was always between Monica and Quincy, and so was the love. The look in her eyes, after that final shot on the court in the final sequence, was heartbreaking. The music was perfectly scored for the moment. I believed every note.

The ending was earned, and some have said it seemed unrealistic, but I like to think that in this time and age, that it is a perfectly realistic option. “Love and Basketball” is brave in the way it embraces its female characters, showing them as strong individuals who make different choices in life, but nevertheless perserve their faith and individuality while doing so. It doesn’t make judgments about what is the ideal career or life course for a woman, or a man, it simply observes the consequences of the choices that we make as children, as teenagers, as sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends, and follow them through. In the end, what happened is a life, like any other life, and ultimately the person who needs to take responsibility for our actions is ourselves.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 4:29 PM

    Great Blog post. I am going to bookmark and read more often. I love the Blog template if you need any assistance customizing it let me know!

  2. October 14, 2009 1:00 AM

    I was curious if you were a sports fan because everything you mentioned in that first paragraph about athletes and their struggles are what you’d see a lot in sport itself.
    I ask because I never found a proper sports movie dramatic enough to match watching sports.

    • Grace permalink*
      October 14, 2009 2:38 PM

      I’m not a daily sports fan. I get into the big games – like Olympics and World Cup, but otherwise no.

      Personally, I think sports movie is more difficult to do well than a film of other genres, simply because like you said, the raw material is already being covered in detail in the media. Other facets of human lives just don’t get the same amount of exposure (that squabble with your mom is not usually on TV every Sunday), so there are more room for the imagination. When you can see real people play real sports as a real living daily, it’s harder to find the imitations believable.

      And then there’s that essence of the atheletic struggle that I feel is difficult for actors to portray, as so much of it is physical, you pretty much need to be an athelete to be able to make it genuine.

    • October 15, 2009 1:29 AM

      @vivek

      How about Chuck de India. I really enjoyed that one specially highlighting team spirit in team activities.

  3. October 14, 2009 10:07 PM

    Hi Grace. A little more insight into you, via a well written post – as always.

    Sounds like a good movie. I’ll look for it.

    There are probably a variety of opinions about the “best” sports movies. I’ll give you some personal choices off the top of my head:

    1. I’m not an Oliver Stone fan, but “Any Given Sunday” is an excellent sports movie about professional football.

    2. “Hoosiers” would be a classic sports “struggle” movie. (Same with Remember the Titans.

    3. I really like “For Love of the Game” with Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston. (Of course, I love anything that Kelly Preston is in…) A sports movie and a romance movie.

    4. Come to think of it, Kevin Costner is in many of the quintessential sports movies, including my top two: Bull Durham and Tin Cup.

    I would watch Tin Cup any night of the week that I’m bored. It’s that good. But, I think it is a “guy” movie. Am I wrong?

    Grace: of those you mentioned I’ve only seen Remember the Titans which I loved. And nah, I have my “tin cup” movie on call for different occasions as well :)

  4. October 14, 2009 10:15 PM

    You make all the movies you review sound so amazing, I wonder if I’ll be disappointed when I actually see them! On the other hand, I may appreciate them more, since I already know the beauty that lies within them.


    Grace: I’m definitely more fond of writing about those that I’m passionate about…it’s just more fun this way, right? This is a good one, but not one of the greats.

  5. October 15, 2009 1:32 AM

    @Vivek

    And Raging Bull, now that’s a sports movie on the scale of Othello!

  6. October 21, 2009 2:33 PM

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

    Grace: Hello! Yes.

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