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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 26, 2000)
love, sports are genuine here
py samuei Mcftewon
Though it will probably get
shoved under the rug, Gina Prince
Bythewood’s “Love and Basketball”
is the best writing/directing debut in
years, a movie so nuanced and believ
able that it could serve as semi-docu
mentary to women’s sports.
This movie has every opportunity
to take wrong steps in both its plot
ting and presentation and staves most
of them off. The theatrics littering
most sports movies have no role here.
Consider that “Love and
Basketball” has one scene that shows
a girl (Sanaa Latham) benched for
taunts during a basketball game. She
sits the rest of the game.
We do not see the game, only her,
as scrub after scrub file past to enter
the game. And the game ends. It does
not matter to the girl. Inmost movies,
the star gets one last shot to redeem
herself in the game. Not here. She
does, in fact, get a chance at redemp
tion, but in a different context.
It’s the quintessential portrait of
an athlete who cares more for playing
than sitting and winning. Yes, this is
how it works.
Prince-Bythewood, who junked
basketball for track at the University
of California at Los Angeles, cuts
right past the public relations jargon
of the team-first mentality to the real
ity: The game is an athlete’s oxygen.
Winning is nice, but the competition
It s only one plank of the script.
The other involves a 13-year
romance of two affluent, black bas
ketball players in Los Angeles. It’s
fairly believable until the final
moments, when it slightly descends
into fairy tale. But no matter; by then,
we get the point of the movie: There’s
eventually. For much of the movie,
they are not.
Especially for Monica, who guar
antees she’ll be the first girl to play in
the NBA. When we meet her, she’s 11
and a new neighbor to Quincy.
Quincy’s the son of a NBA player
and has hoop dreams of his own.
Quincy’s good, but so is Monica, and
when she doesn’t back down from his
prowess, he smacks her with an
elbow that leaves a scar that never
fades. • :'i
Quincy asks Monica to be his girl
the next day. He wants her to ride on
the handlebars of his bike. She wants
to ride her own. And so they fight, the
first of many.
Cut to seven years later, in the
“second quarter” as the movie calls it.
Monica (Latham) and Quincy (Omar
Epps) are high school stars; not
together, but friends. Quincy’s guar
anteed a scholarship. Monica has to
work for it, along with the respect df
her homemaking mother (Alfre
Woodard), who always found her
daughter a bit strange for her taste in
it s here that Latham, who has
smaller roles in “The Best Man” and
“The Wood,” begins to establish a
vivid persona of a young woman
unsure of everything but her game.
Walking in heels, big problem.
Another telling scene occurs at the
prom when it appears evident she has
never crossed her legs in a dress or
even worn a dress before.
But it’s also when Quincy, on a
separate date, finally notices his
next-door neighbor as something
more than a playmate. A scene of
their first sexual encounter follows,
as Monica’s insecurities about her
body are in full bloom.
The third and fourth quarters deal
Listen, do yoif smell ,
with their histones after high school.
They come together, stray apart and
eventually have to decide at the end
of the movie whether they ought to be
together, while Monica must choose
between the game and the rest of her
life. A subplot includes the infideli
ties of Quincy’s father (Dennis
Haysbert), who enjoyed the life of a
professional beyond his marital
But the movie’s strength lies in
the details of these quarters and
Latham’s characterization of Monica.
It’s a feminist-slanted movie. Monica
accurately points out men are reward
ed for the same passionate behavior
women are punished for.
But Latham doesn’t paint the por
trait of a victim but one who discov
ers, over time, what the game is
worth when nobody’s watching.
She’s sullen, angry and self
absorbed by nature. She thinks, as
one character remarks, “that the
world still revolves around your ass.”
But eminently, Monica is likable.
Part of good acting is making the
audience want what the character
wants. Latham gets to that place. That
she can’t always get out of the way of
her faults makes it easier to root for
These characters are what good
scripts are made of- not persons who
had the cards stacked against from
the start or who ooze such goodness
that it’s impossible to identify with
STARS: Sanaa Latham,
DIRECTOR: Gina Prince
RATING: PG -13
FIVE WORDS: Dead-on
portrait of athletes.
them. Seeing another movie of differ
ent circumstances this weekend,
“Where The Heart Is,” I felt as if I
were watching Natalie Portman’s per
fect character walk up a mountain of
ridiculous odds, none of which were
her fault. Not so with Monica, who
constructs some of the obstacles on
But she learns to sidestep them
and even how to avoid creating them
in the first place. “Love and
Basketball” is first and foremost
about its title, but it has a secondary
focus on demons and facing up to
them, even early in life.
Prince-Bythewood constructs a
woman on the first part of that life
long journey. And after the movie
ends, we don’t expect she will contin
ue to battle away. That reality makes
this one of the best movies of the
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