Teenage Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin is a teenage basketball star, one of the best in all of the five boroughs of New York City. Although they live in a nice, but modest home, his parents worked hard as immigrants to supply Boogie with a decent upbringing although his mother can be a harsh disciplinarian and his father’s hustling (and bad temper) has landed him in jail more than once. And while his parents may not see eye-to-eye about many things that are united in the desire to get their son into a top university on a full-ride athletic scholarship which will hopefully be a stepping stone to an NBA career. But Boogie (Taylor Takahashi) doesn’t seem so sure that is what he wants. And as a crucial game draws nearer, he finds the pressure only increasing.
Even though we have seen this type of story before, in which sport or academic achievement will be someone’s ticket to a better life, Boogie writer/director Eddie Huang’s screenplay still makes everything seem fresh. We seldom get a chance to see this story told through the eyes of minority characters, and when Boogie tells someone that he knows most people only see Chinese-Americans as good enough to only “cook, clean and count,” the film itself is perhaps leveling the charge that certain universal themes ring true for audiences, even when the main characters aren’t necessarily Caucasian. And the pressure tat Boogie finds himself facing as graduation looms certainly rings true even for those of us for whom our own senior year of high school may be a little too far in the rear-view mirror than some of us may like to admit.
But beyond that thematical universality, there is also a very strong sense of specificity in regards to Boogie and the cultural traditions of his mother and father he has been brought up in. Much of the film’s interesting dramatic tension comes not from the basketball story-line, but from how Boogie tries to deal with being a second generation Asian-American, one foot in his parents’ traditions, the other in American urban culture. Boogie’s swagger when he is out with friends is a side of him that seems to disappear once he gets around his parents. And his struggle to reconcile those two halves is what
If Huang’s screenplay makes any missteps it is as Boogie moves into its third act and Monk reveals to Boogie that his girlfriend Elanor (Taylour Page) used to be in a relationship with him before Boogie met her. From a storytelling stand point, the revelation is there to cut Boogie off from the support he receives from Elanor as his pride and anger leads him to very briefly cut her out of his life. But the revelation from Monk comes so late in the game that it feels perfunctory, as if the script is just systematically systematically going down a list and sniping each lifeline in Boogie’s life. The film takes no time to explore it and thus when the two reunite, there is no emotional payoff to that particular piece of business.