About eighty percent love and twenty percent basketball, this is a romance about two basketball-loving kids who go one-on-one in both games for almost twenty years before they get it right.
The movie is divided into quarters, like a basketball game. Monica moves next door to Quincy when they are both 11. He is so affronted by her skill at making baskets that he knocks her to the ground — and so impressed that he asks her to be his girl. They kiss for an agreed-upon five seconds, and then break up when they argue over whether he gets to be the boss.
Seven years later, they are seniors in high school, and both star players. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are friends, very aware of each other, but awkward at expressing their feelings. He is heavily recruited, but opportunities for girl players are more limited. At the last minute, she gets recruited, too. On the night of the prom, they acknowledge how they feel about each other and become intimate.
At USC, they each face challenges. Quincy learns that the father he respects has not been honest. Monica must deal with a demanding coach and with competition from teammates. They part, and Quincy drops out of school to play professional basketball. In the last quarter, they meet again, for one last chance at love and basketball.
Writer/director Gina Prince-Blythewood has crafted a nice, old-fashioned story. There are a few modern touches, like Monica’s independence in addressing the conflicts between her love for Quincy and her love for basketball, but it is surprisingly traditional in structure and outcome. For example, Quincy is permitted to have had many romantic encounters, but Monica, our heroine, is as hopelessly devoted to her one love as Olivia Newton-John was in “Grease.” And when she sees Quincy again, years after their college break-up, she apologizes to him for leaving him when he was upset so that she could get back to the dorm before her curfew. She says, “I should have been there for you. But I didn’t know how to do that and be all about ball.” There is also a “Star is Born” element as Monica becomes successful as Quincy is having difficulty.
Monica and Quincy must also resolve standard-issue family conflicts. Monica feels unappreciated by her mother (a criminally underused Alfre Woodard), who is happy to be a very traditional housewife and subordinate her life to her family. It turns out that Monica’s mother feels unappreciated too. Quincy’s father, a professional basketball player, turns out to be less than the hero Quincy thought he was. Quincy says to him, “How come you couldn’t be the man you kept trying to make me?” Both must learn to forgive their parents for not being perfect before they can truly become adults.
It is especially nice to see a movie with a primarily black cast that has a genuine feel for the culture but avoids the usual clichés. Monica and Quincy live in an upper middle class neighborhood and each has two loving parents.
Parents should know that the movie has strong sexuality for a PG-13, including descriptions of some sexually aggressive women, a strip basketball game and a scene of Monica and Quincy having sex that has no nudity but is fairly explicit. (It also includes the use of a condom.) A character is accused of fathering a child out of wedlock. Quincy’s father admits that he married Quincy’s mother because she was pregnant. A character gets drunk when she finds out that her husband has been unfaithful. A mother slaps a grown child.
Families who see this movie should talk about how people reconcile the demands of love, family, and career, and why it is that Monica and Quincy had so much trouble telling each other how they felt. Teenagers may also want to talk about the different views Monica and Quincy had of their relationship at different ages, and how the key element linking them through all of them was not basketball but friendship.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a very different basketball movie, “Hoosiers,” about a 1950’s championship high school team, and a very different romantic movie, “Claudine.”