I need to apologize to some people for pre-judging this film.
A few years ago, my roommate wanted to watch a movie together. As a film fan, I’m always excited when someone else wants to watch something — especially if it’s a movie they love. She suggested Love & Basketball, which I may or may not have mocked her about just a little. Having the word “love” in the title made me think it was going to be a poorly written romance with a little basketball thrown sloppily in. We ended up watching something else and put this memory and movie into the back of my mind.
This month, I’ve been focusing on Black writers and directors, especially films that I haven’t seen before. All of the films have been great so far, but many of them have been heavy. Many movies exist about racism and the horrific things that so many Black people have experienced over the years. These are important works and I’m so thankful that they exist.
But after watching so many films about police brutality or the injustices that people of color experience, I wanted to watch something joyful. I wanted something fun. Hence, me revisiting Love & Basketball.
This movie is a lot of fun. I’m going to have to apologize to my old roommate for misjudging this movie.
Love & Basketball is very aptly titled. Both Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) love basketball and plan on eventually playing professionally. This film manages to work within the “girl/boy next door” trope and expand on it.
I love that all of the characters in this film felt real and relatable. When we first meet Monica at 11 years old (played perfectly by Kyla Pratt), I was reminded of myself. I was always “one of the guys” and my mom wouldn’t have been able to get me in a dress if she had tried. The difference is, in Love & Basketball, Monica has some serious athletic skills that I lacked as a child. Quincy reminded me of the guys that I was friends with through my childhood. We would hang out and have a good time together. We would mock each other and pick on each other — it was really fun!
It’s so interesting to watch these two characters mature individually and as a couple. Their personalities and priorities shift as they come into adulthood and have to make some important decisions. These moments are so well-thought-out and feel so true to each character. The writing expertly shows just how well Gina Prince-Bythewood knows her characters.
I especially liked Quincy’s reaction to his father’s infidelity. He had idolized his father, Zeke (Dennis Haysbert), his whole life and had patterned his own life after his father’s. This betrayal and his father’s lies were something he couldn’t stomach. He struggled to process through that. And, in order to protect himself, he pulled away from everyone. He isolated himself as a defense mechanism that he probably didn’t even recognize. While watching, I was amazed because I do the same thing during hard times. When I was 19, I didn’t realize that I had this tendency. I was just as oblivious to my own actions as Quincy is. That one defense mechanism reveals so much about his personality and priorities.
Even the supporting characters, like their parents, have interesting story arcs that compliment the journey that Monica and Quincy are on.
Love & Basketball makes it clear that life is difficult and dreams always come at a cost. Monica’s mom, Camille (Alfre Woodard), sacrifices her dream of a catering business so that she can raise her family. She values her time with her children more than her own dreams. While that catering business is always in the back of her mind, she makes the necessary sacrifices for her bigger dream.
We see that with both Quincy and Monica. Both dreamed of being in the NBA and neither one’s experience lives up to their dreams. Quincy leaves college to play but never achieves the level of greatness he anticipated. Monica ends up playing around the world and eventually winds up in the WNBA. Neither of them gets all they wished for — just like in life. Still, despite all of their dreams not being fulfilled, the film ends with their lives being joyful and full.
Our lives might not end up looking like we always dreamed, but that’s okay. Sometimes things work out even better than our dreams.
Love & Basketball works as both a sports film and a romance. It’s thoughtful and a lot of fun. It reveals so much about how we think about sports and the important role they can play in our lives. It also focuses on the importance of both family and getting a good education. There is a depth to Love & Basketball that I wasn’t expecting.
It’s also a great piece of work from Gina Prince-Bythewood, who has a lot to offer as both a writer and director. What a great first feature film from this talented woman!