Film Review: Boogie

STUDIO: Focus Features | DIRECTOR: Eddie Huang | CAST: Taylor Takahashi, Pamelyn Chee, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Perry Yung, Domenick Lombardozzi, Taylour Paige
RELEASE DATE: March 5, 2021
SPECS: R | 89 min. | Drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

Question: When is a basketball movie not a basketball movie?

Answer: When it’s Boogie, the impressive first film directed and written by restauranteur/lawyer/TV host-turned-auteur Eddie Huang.

This surprisingly compelling and affecting debut from Huang (whose memoir was the source material for TV’s Fresh Off the Boat, which he co-produces) is a basketball movie on its surface but there’s a lot more to it.

The story focuses on Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), an Asian high school student in Queens, a basketball phenom with  a huge chip on his shoulder. His anger and bad attitude becomes counterproductive in his dealings with others, including his family, his new African-American girlfriend (Taylour Paige, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and his coach (Domenick Lombardozzi, The Gambler).

The goal of Boogie, his overly demanding mother (Pamelyn Chee, Beyond Skyline) and his estranged slacker father (Perry Yung, John Wick: Chapter 2) is to get a scholarship to play basketball in college, then go on to a career in the NBA. But as it gets closer to making a decision about his future, these dreams seems more unlikely. A thorn in his side is a rival trash-talking high school basketball star (played by the late rapper Pop Smoke), who Boogie has to go up against in a big game at the end of the year.

Boogie has all the tropes of a sports film, but the characters and locations make it refreshing and special. Filmmaker Huang has conceived lots of points of conflict throughout this film, but goes about dealing with them in a smart way, avoiding clichés. Adding color to the proceedings are the locales, like New York City’s Chinatown, gritty playgrounds where fierce street ball games are played and classrooms where Boogie and other students discuss The Catcher in the Rye while living out their own coming-of-age dramas.

Propelled by a well-chosen, wall-to-wall hip-hop score, Boogie boasts fine performances across the board and really natural, attention-getting work from Takahashi in his first role. With Huang bringing excitement with his way with actors, energetic style and sharp script, Boogie marks the arrival of major talents in front of and behind the camera.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.