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Boogie (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

BOOGIE (2021)

Starring Taylor Takahashi, Taylour Paige, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Bashar "Pop Smoke" Jackson, Pamelyn Chee, Perry Yung, Mike Moh, Alexa Mareka, Domenick Lombardozzi, Steve Coulter, Eddie Huang, Charlamagne tha God, Jessica Huang, Claire Hsu, Ren Hsieh, Despot, AC Casciani, Ming Wu, Terayle Hill, Fernold Degand, Bernard Chang, Mitchell Ito, Samantha Eberle, Tommy Bo, Shenell Edmonds, Ben Davis, Ezra Knight, Margaret Odette, Sam Jules, Ed Aristone and Ariel Eliaz.

Screenplay by Eddie Huang.

Directed by Eddie Huang.

Distributed by Focus Features. 89 minutes. Rated R.

There is a big subplot in the movie Boogie about a high school English teacher teaching his class about coming-of-age stories – specifically The Catcher in the Rye. And, yes, those kind of redemption stories are often touching, intense and hopefully eventually the lead character learns something about life.

Boogie is trying to be one of those coming-of-age stories. It is about a Chinese American teen named Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a basketball prodigy who wants to go to college and eventually become a pro. He is having trouble finding a college to give him a scholarship and his parents can’t afford to send him without one. Therefore, they come up with the idea of transferring him to another high school which is struggling at basketball, where he can play head-to-head against the team of best player in the area and hopefully attract some scouts with his performance.

The biggest problem with Boogie is with the lead character. To be completely honest, Boogie is kind of an asshole. He refers to his nickname as his “stripper name.” He dismisses his new teammates as “hot trash” to their faces. He thinks it’s cute to hit on a new girl he barely knows with the smooth line, “You’ve got a nice vagina.” (For the record, he hasn’t seen it, except for covered by a pair of tights.)

Yes, many coming-of-age heroes could be more accurately defined as anti-heroes. They can be angry, sullen and anti-social. And yes, Boogie learns and grows and shows more layers as the film goes on, but it is hard to get over the bad taste in your mouth towards the character from his first impressions.

Granted, his family life is pretty hellish – his mother is shrill and mean, his dad is irresponsible, irate and overbearing in his demands to make Boogie a pro basketball player. Both are constantly riding him to be better, to practice, to get a scholarship.

The film makes a big point of comparing and contrasting him with Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye – a character which Boogie considers rich, entitled and self-obsessed, which is really not all that farfetched a reading – but the film is trying to make Boogie an antihero. (And also, someone who goes against the grain in his literary analysis, but somewhat thoughtfully.) The problem is that other than being poor, Boogie is also selfish and entitled in his own ways.

And honestly, even though he changes and grows, he doesn’t change all that much. He’s still a main cause of the maelstrom of problems swirling around him. He resents his parents. He doesn’t really care about his teammates all that much even when it comes to the big game, which he is greatly responsible for knocking off the rails before it happens in a way most people never expected. He’s kind of a dick to his best friend and his new girlfriend. The fact that he is doing it to hide his hurt feelings and anger does not really justify his actions, and his apologies ring a little hollow.

Which is kind of a shame, because Boogie does expose us to a very interesting world that does not get enough exposure on film. The characters, while mostly kind of unlikable, are never less than interesting. The world of Asian Americans and New York high school basketball – as well as street ball – is pretty fascinating.

Despite its sometimes-off-putting main character, much of Boogie is entertaining and intriguing. In that earlier scene I mentioned where Boogie expressed his disdain for Holden Caulfield in his English class, he notes that he preferred the character of Mr. Antolini, the sensitive and admired English teacher in the book that Holden eventually dismisses because he mistakenly takes a gesture as making a gay pass at him.

Perhaps Boogie needed its own Mr. Antolini to warn the guy that he is heading for a terrible fall.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: June 1, 2021.


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