Synopsis: Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a basketball phenom living in Queens, N.Y., dreams of one day playing in the NBA. While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Boogie must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend (Taylour Paige), high school, on-court rivals (Pop Smoke), and the burden of expectation.
Set amidst the bustling streets of New York, Boogie arrives as the latest coming-of-age drama to portray struggles of the adolescent milieu. Fresh off the Boat creator Eddie Huang isn’t interested in telling a run-of-the-mill journey of self-discovery, with the first-time writer/director zeroing his sights on an aspiring Asian basketball player’s search for self outside of his familial burden.
Huang’s effort displays some noticeable debut blemishes, but his endearing story infuses enough energy and authenticity to score where it counts.
Similar to its revered genre peers, Boogie finds its comfort zone within finite observations. Huang admirably delves into the revolving wheel of pressures facing Boogie’s day-to-day reality. Struggles with school, sports and dating could seem fairly familiar, but Huang wisely imbues Boogie’s perspective with more thought and intimacy.
His ability to encompass Boogie’s cultural struggles in a buttoned-up Asian family adds a much-needed familial pulse to the myriad of subplots. Star Taylor Takahashi makes a promising debut as the aspiring hooper, matching the character’s swaggering edge with some much-needed vulnerability. Perhaps the true breakout comes from recently-passed rap star Pop Smoke, who takes a thanklessly straightforward role and delivers an intoxicating presence onscreen as a rival hooper. Whenever the film focuses on their tense dynamic, it sings with unease and unkempt emotions (the addition of Pop Smoke tracks is a welcomed inclusion).
Huang’s ambition exceeds his reach at times, particularly when truncating a busy narrative into an 89-minute runtime. Even amidst the struggles, Huang’s lively hand behind the director’s chair keeps the audience’s interest. A mixture of dynamic framing and uptempo music choices aptly convey New York’s endless hive of activity. As a basketball fanatic, I give Huang credit for being one of the few directors to employ dynamism into his hooper frames. The smooth movements and intense action display the sport’s freneticism while never overplaying these frames into Hollywood theatrics.
Even though Boogie gets a lot right, audiences will have to sift through the film’s messy delivery to make those discoveries. Huang’s debut leans too much into tired coming-of-age mechanics, often relying upon these devices to push forward the narrative’s pertinent themes. The overworked obviousness of these dynamics (Boogie has to write an essay about coming of age) detracts from any attempts at discovering deeper nuances. Huang’s material also proves to be far too busy for its own good, with certain subplots rarely getting the necessary time to leave an impact (Taylour Paige does a good job as Boogie’s love interest, but her character never becomes more than that).
Similar to its protagonist, Boogie scores more points with its style than substance. In Eddie Huang’s well-intended hands, that decision works enough to propel his agreeable coming-of-age story forward.
Focus Features releases Boogie in theaters on March 5th.