DIRECTED BY

Gina Prince-Bythewood

 

STARRING

Omar Epps

Sanaa Lathan

Alfre Woodard

Dennis Haysbert

Debbi Morgan

Gabrielle Union

Regina Hall

Tyra Banks

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

2000

 

RUNNING TIME

2 Hrs., 4 Mins.

Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan in 2000's "Love and Basketball."

Love & Basketball  

friends. And she’s great at it — raucously so. Quincy, taken aback, has never met a girl so fond of the sport before. This leads him to impetuously shove her to the ground a few minutes into the game to assert himself. She scrapes her chin.

 

This introduction intrigues both. The next day, while making nice during a leisurely walk to school, they notice that there is a spark between them. Awkwardly, after it is requested by Quincy, they share a kiss, which lasts, to the latter’s estimation, about five seconds. That bliss doesn’t endure, though: Moments later, Quincy says the wrong thing and the two break out into a fight. They wrestle on a neighbor’s lawn. Still, a closeness develops.

 

The film in which these characters serve as the leads, Love & Basketball, from 2000, covers Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy’s (Omar Epps) friendship, and then romance, for the next 13 years. Both are dedicated to basketball — a game they are, at least for a time, intent on pursuing professionally — and, by the time they finish high school and concurrently attend the University of South California, to each other. Things are often messy, however: sometimes the sport seems more important than a significant other, and vice versa.

 

The movie, written and directed by the then-newcomer Gina Prince-Bythewood, is formulaic — a decades-covering romance that, a little before the closing credits start rolling, softly decides love can truly conquer all. (And ball.) In Love & Basketball’s case, it can conquer studying abroad. Quarter-life crises. A period of separation, during which Quincy romances, and is briefly engaged to, a nice-enough girl played by Tyra Banks. A short, post-school period where Monica and Quincy aren’t so sure they want to keep playing the sport after all.

 

But the familiar development of the storyline isn’t what makes Love & Basketball such a wonderful, appealing romantic dramedy. The movie is effective because its actors are so confident, with their performances bettered by lived-in chemistry. Because Prince-Bythewood ensures the movie is more than just a romantic feature; it is also an excellent family movie, replete with carefully mapped out sequences that effectively showcase Monica’s and Quincy’s respective relationships with their parents. (One of the best moments in the movie is when Monica, who has always had something of a rocky connection with her Alfre Woodard-portrayed hausfrau mother, has a heart to heart with the latter during a difficult time in her life and is illuminated.) Because we simply like these characters, and root for a cinematic, cheerful ending for them.  

 

Some reviewers have complained that Love & Basketball is too ultimately maudlin — and too focused on being a “feel-good” picture — and as such falls short. That it's a likable romantic comedy good in certain moments but underwritten in others. Essentially, this is true: Most of the movie’s beats are familiar, and it does not move in unexpected, or challenging, directions. But I was caught up in this story, and in these characters. I admired how Monica and Quincy, conclusively brought to life by Lathan and Epps, are charismatic people made for each other who nonetheless are sometimes too wrapped up in themselves, and their neuroses, to always be great partners. (Subtly, we notice that Monica seems unsure of herself when she is not in competition with someone.) And I especially admired how Prince-Bythewood almost pointedly takes breaks from focusing on the central romance, whether that be because of familial dissension or a rift between its leads. Epps, Lathan, and Prince-Bythewood are so efficient at capturing the small details that the movie feels fresh and invigorating even when it foundationally is not. B+

M

iddle schoolers Monica and Quincy meet for the first time in a Los Angeles suburb. The year is 1981. Quincy has lived in the area all his life; Monica, born in Atlanta, is new in town. As of a few days ago, they’re neighbors. Monica, an extrovert, doesn’t waste any time getting to know Quincy. Shortly after her family finishes unpacking, she invites herself to play basketball with him and his

July 18, 2018