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'Love and Basketball': A Winning Team

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2000

   


    'Love and Basketball' Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan go one-on-one. (New Line)
"Love and Basketball" has moments of such tenderness and sophistication, complimented by such romantic dreaminess between lead performers Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, it's easy to forgive the movie's slower sections.

First-time filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood's movie joins such films as "The Best Man" and "The Wood," which look for the class, not the crass, in African American life.

When 11-year-old Monica Wright (Kyla Pratt) moves next door to Quincy McCall (Glenndon Chatman) in an affluent black neighborhood in Los Angeles, it's the beginning of a lifelong one-on-one tussle. She's a tomboy, absolutely crazy about basketball. When Quincy challenges her to a game on the court, she shows her stuff. She's good. Too good. So Quincy does what any self-respecting boy would: He knocks her across the concrete.

"Love and Basketball" is divided into four "quarters," like a basketball game, as these two fight, elbow-jab, laugh with and love each other over the years. The "game" of their relationship takes 12 years, from 1981 (when they meet as children) to 1993, when they've seen it all, including professional careers as ball players and relationships with other lovers.

In the second quarter (1988), Quincy and Monica, now played by Epps and Lathan, are struggling to find themselves as ball players in high school.

Quincy's the star, getting all the girls and the stadium applause. But Monica's having trouble with her no-nonsense aggression on the girls' team; her sense of competition is considered too much for a female.

Over the second and remaining quarters, there'll be longing for each other at the prom (as they dance with different partners); furtive gazing at one another across the miniature divide between their houses (these may be the only two affluent families in America that don't move); and an actual romance in college.

Both characters are highly independent spirits. So it's a cinch they're going to break up. Quincy drops out of college to turn pro. Monica stays with her college team, then goes professional in Barcelona. When she returns, years later, and runs into Quincy, he has a fiancee.

Producer Spike Lee's stylistic fingerprints (or Prince-Bythewood's imitation thereof) are all over this movie. The humor is terrific, the cinematography (by Reynaldo Villalobos) has a burnished glow, and the score (by Lee's favorite composer, Terence Blanchard) is lush.

But Prince-Bythewood is most definitely the auteur: It's a treat to see a movie (in the spirit of "Eve's Bayou") that gives so much time and attention to a strong female character. This is Monica's story as much as Quincy's.

All in all, the romantic feeling of the movie carries us over the more leaden sections. (At times, I did find myself wishing these two were ice-hockey players so we'd only have three periods.) And the performers are uniformly assured, including the wonderful Lathan, Epps, Alfre Woodard as Monica's proud, stay-at-home mother and Dennis Haysbert as Quincy's philandering, pro-ball-playing father. As for the actors who play Quincy and Monica as children, they steal the show. Pratt, in particular, is a devilish imp who fights for the ball, as well as your heart. And Chatman is a charmer, as he tells this new tomboy on the block that he's decided she's to be his girlfriend.

"I guess we oughta kiss now," says the young Quincy.

"For how long?" asks Monica.

"About five seconds," declares the no-nonsense Quincy.

Off they go to a quiet spot for the First Kiss. And as their lips meet, we watch Quincy's fingers, counting 1-2-3-4-5. Scenes like that make it real easy to follow these two to the bitter end, even if there is going to be some slack time.

LOVE AND BASKETBALL (PG-13, 118 minutes) – Contains some obscenity, a little courtside scuffling and sexual situations.

 

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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