By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Monica (Kyla Pratt, who became a minicelebrity in the feisty ads she did for the WNBA) and Quincy (Glenndon Chatman) first meet in 1981, when her family moves into the house next door; they’re both 11 and full of preteen bravado. The blueprint for their relationship is mapped out immediately when she challenges him to a game of basketball and he foolishly underestimates her. Unnerved by her skills, trash-talking and cool insistence that she’ll be the first woman in the NBA, Quincy first reacts with shock, then shoves her to the ground, scarring her face. The act fills him with remorse but, more important, foreshadows the passion and struggle that will define their relationship. Staring at the still-bleeding wound in the mirror, she beams with pride. The scar not only permanently mars the girly femininity she so despises, and that her mother so values, but is proof that she held her ground.
Flash ahead to 1988, and the two (now played by Sanna Lathan and Omar Epps) are in high school. He’s now a sexy MVP jock on a straight path to a college scholarship, and she’s a short-fused but talented female athlete desperate to prove herself and, hopefully, win a scholarship. Both end up at USC, where she struggles to carve out a place for herself while he leads the charmed life of a star, but their childhood rivalry has finally given way to love. When a devastating bit of news throws Quincy off his course, he forces Monica to choose between him and her dreams, with neither able to foresee the repercussions.
Although the writing and the directing are smart and purposeful, the movie takes flight on the strength of its performances. There’s Debbi Morgan’s transformation from a sexy trophy wife to a heartbroken, hardened and betrayed woman; Alfre Woodard’s sly comedic turn as a prissy stay-at-home mom; and Dennis Haysbert’s fading NBA star whose attempts to mold his son into a better man than he is backfire horribly. Yet it’s the lead performances that really make Love & Basketball. Lathan and Epps have beauty and presence to burn, but they also illuminate the heart and soul of their characters through their attention to detail: in the way Monica, more at home in sweats than dresses, sits slumped and spread-legged in her prom dress, the way Quincy reacts with tears of fury at his father, the way that the weight of adulthood even alters how the two walk. But it’s the scenes on the court, with the adult Monica and Quincy playing against each other and their own history, that leave you breathless. While Me’Shell Ndegéocello simmers on the soundtrack, Prince-Bythewood and her actors push the moment to an almost unbearable pitch. What’s at stake is nothing less than redemption, and the payoff is a perfect movie moment — one that cinches the film’s modern-classic status.THE VIRGIN SUICIDES | Written and directed by SOFIA COPPOLA Based on the novel by JEFFREY EUGENIDES | Produced by CHRIS HANLEY, FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, JULIE COSTANZO and DAN HALSTED Released by Paramount Classics | Citywide LOVE & BASKETBALL | Written and directed by GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD | Produced by SPIKE LEE and SAM KITT | Released by New Line Cinema | Citywide
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