‘Boogie’: Turns a Typical Hoops Tale Into Something Chewier

Like many a talented basketball player, Boogie cherishes NBA dreams. But he lives in an ABC (American-born Chinese) reality. “We can cook, clean and count real good, but anything else we’re picked last,” says his uncle, played by Huang himself (who as a lawyer turned restaurateur turned author turned writer-director, is a living rebuke to such underestimation). However, Asian representation — Taiwanese at that — is no longer unprecedented even in pro basketball and if, at 18, Boogie is too young to feel the significance of Chang’s tennis triumph, he’s certainly of an age to remember Linsanity.

Boogie needs a basketball scholarship but though scouts are interested, none comes through with a full-ride offer, partly because of his on-court arrogance. His hard-nosed, emotionally withholding mother (Pamelyn Chee) is crisply disappointed and tries to take Momager-style control of his prospects, while his more idealistic father believes all Boogie has to do to attract the right attention is beat the local New York basketball star Monk (20-year-old rapper Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson, who died tragically last year).

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This rivalry will be further intensified by romantic complication: Boogie eyes up fellow student Eleanor (Taylour Paige) in his AP English class, and after a rocky beginning, they get together. Though he’s cocksure on the court and in the gym, Boogie is less sure of his, er, manhood elsewhere; in an endearing (and very unusual) losing-his-virginity scene, he worries aloud that his “dick might be trash.”

Spoiler: Boogie’s dick appears not to be trash — or if it is, Eleanor doesn’t mind, because they’re more or less an item thereafter. Last seen as the eponymous messy bitch in Janicza Bravo’s Zola and as Viola Davis’ minxish toygirl in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Paige is terrifically magnetic, even when the film tries to put her squarely into a trophy-girlfriend role.

 

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