'Boogie' Is an Air Ball Directed by Eddie Huang
Starring Taylor Takahashi, Taylour Paige, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pop Smoke
Published Mar 03, 2021The path to becoming a professional athlete is an improbable one. The combination of dedication, hard work, talent and luck required to turn that dream into a reality is enough to steer most away from the pursuit. For those with dreams of playing in the NBA specifically, good luck. A rough estimate calculates that only one percent of NCAA players will get to live out that dream, and it's not like earning a spot on a college roster is a cakewalk. But none of that matters to Boogie. He's focused on doing whatever it takes to make it happen.
Boogie is the titular character of the feature-length directorial debut from chef and writer Eddie Huang, known for his docuseries Huang's World and sitcom Fresh Off the Boat (a series adapted based on his memoir of the same name). The coming-of-age underdog story follows Alfred "Boogie" Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a young Asian-American basketball phenom navigating his final year of high school in the hopes of securing a scholarship to a top 10 school — the necessary next step on his road to reaching the NBA. Boogie lives in Queens and has just recently transferred to City Prep to get a chance to play against Monk (played by the late Pop Smoke), the most highly touted recruit in the city and Boogie's natural rival. Amid the pursuit of chasing his dream, Boogie struggles to deal with controlling parents, a no-nonsense coach and his first girlfriend. He even has AP English to top it all off.
If you weren't aware of what to expect going into the film, that's okay; five minutes in, Boogie's AP English teacher explains to his class that, 'Whether you know it or not, you are a coming-of-age story.' Not the most subtle way to indicate how the rest of the narrative will play out, but it's certainly accurate. What follows is a film that lives on the surface more often than not, despite the opportunity to dive into deeper ideas and themes.
Past basketball films like Hoop Dreams and Lenny Cooke were so well received for not only emphasizing the growth and maturity required as a player to reach the next level, but also for identifying the social, cultural, economic, and systemic barriers that so many of these young people face. Huang tries to do the same, and succeeds at times; Boogie speaks of how he's pigeonholed and overlooked as an athlete because of his race, and can't identify with Holden Caulfield the way his other classmates can. ("He's not a hero, he's just privileged. Anyone with that much free time is going to be good at complaining.")
However, these barriers seem to be used as a mechanism to drive the underdog narrative, rather than providing any commentary on the issues themselves. Despite prevalent obstacles, Boogie's success or failure is boiled down to whether or not he can beat his rival, Monk (which is mentioned about half a dozen times within the first half of the movie). In reality, Boogie is up against so much more, but the film fails to capture the complexity and severity of the hurdles he needs to overcome to achieve his success.
Huang admirably attempts to tell an original story that touches on representation and building an identity as a first-generation immigrant looking to succeed in America, but he relies so much on the mechanisms of so many other coming-of-age stories that the film ultimately feels too predictable. From the outset, the 'big game' is seen as the be all and end all for Boogie's future, while everyone watching knows there is so much else at play. The result is a feature-length debut from Huang that falls short and leaves plenty of room for improvement. But, hey, as that old sports saying goes, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. (Focus)