A feelgood sports romance that's smart enough to go easy on the schmaltz, Love&Basketball is an intelligent and likeable offering from writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Given the gross-out sex-romp comedy flavour of recent teen offerings, her effort to explore another side to the teen experience is refreshing.
Omar Epps' adolescent Quincy is still a swaggering lothario though, enjoying the woman-shaped perks of high school celebrity, but beneath this he's a decent bloke and something of a momma's boy. Epps plays this paradox well, carrying cock-surety with the ladies comfortably alongside empathy with Monica. She, meanwhile, is a melancholy teen whose attempts to pursue a serious career in basketball seem opposed by everyone. But despite all the angst, Sanaa Lathan plays her soulfully and has some great lines, as Monica compensates for her situation with a sharp tongue, usually aimed at her housewifey mom (Woodard).
Unsurprisingly, the story is weighted toward Monica and the obstacles faced by a girl trying to enter a male-dominated profession. With the emphasis on issues, Love&Basketball hardly echoes the relentless japery of White Men Can't Jump, but it does share an exuberant dynamism in its jumping and dunking. The ball-playing aspect, however, is a mere backdrop for the human drama, although this ain't no Hoop Dreams: while it does raise questions about the tough choices faced by young athletes, these take second place to the central romance.
It's just as well, then, that Epps and Lathan prove more than capable of carrying the story - their performances are faultless (on and off the court) and their chemistry is strong. Don't dismiss this as just another sports movie: Love&Basketball is a touching romance, rich in humour and finely acted.