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New sports, love drama barely makes the cut


Arizona Daily Wildcat

photo courtesy of New Line Cinema Sanaa Lathan, left, and Omar Epps star in New Line Cinema's "Love and Basketball." The romance drama opens in theaters today.

By Christopher Jivan
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 21, 2000
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'Love and Basketball' lacks focus, strong overall story

In a mature, refreshing and often heartwarming look at college basketball, writer and director Gina Prince ("Bowl of Soup") walks a thin line between sports drama and love story, but unsuccessfully tackles both themes.

"Love and Basketball," Prince's new film set just prior to the formation of the Women's National Basketball Association, examines the dreams of one young woman determined to make it to the pros in a country geared towards male sports.

The film suffers because of its dual theme, and is weighed down by its lack of a strong overall story. By switching back and forth between the love story and sports themes, the audience cannot determine which is the sub-plot and which is the focal point.

The upside to this portrayal of love and basketball is that Prince showcases an honest portrayal of relationships and true love amid pressures both on and off the courts.

More interesting, though, is that the film manages to subtly validate the need behind the WNBA. "Love and Basketball" illustrates high school boys' struggles to get recruited to college and professional teams - but also shows girls who work equally hard with few options in the post-high school basketball world.

Unfortunately, Prince tosses in way too many distractions for the characters - and the audience - that ultimately go nowhere. She lacks true focus on the more important issues like gender and sexuality in the sports world and finding time for love in the midst of pursuing dreams.

For example, there is the story of an unfaithful father that highlights one of the film's more interesting dichotomies, as the father struggles to help his son (Omar Epps from "Scream 2") become a man - standards the father cannot live up to himself.

The problem is not that the film avoids this issue of fatherhood, but rather that it does address it enough. In fact, Prince shows brilliant insight into the father/son relationship.

The problem is that the issue is left hanging at the end of the picture - too unresolved for something so essential. The picture lacks the necessary sense of closure at the finish that all elemental sports (or love) stories should have.

One thing working in favor of the picture is the soundtrack, which flows from slow to hip-hop, easily spicing up the scenes and keeping the otherwise jagged pace of the film from slipping into overtime. The music also provides many necessary transitions between the love scenes and the sports scenes.

A second feature that benefits the film is a cameo by Tyra Banks, who shows up in a flashy, important role, stealing the scene from under her costars and proving there is more to her than swimsuits and Victoria's Secret.

Banks brings a funny, prissy "you go girl" kind of attitude to her part, making the role stand out despite the short amount of time it is given in the film. Hopefully, this was an actual inkling of something beyond the world of fashion modeling for Banks.

If only the script were as strong as the film's soundtrack or Banks' supporting role, perhaps this movie could have become one of those rare sports films that stretched beyond the average - one in which the audience became wholly caught up in the characters' plights without too many unnecessary distractions.

Instead, the movie simply offers an interesting viewpoint on basketball and love told mainly from the perspective of a female athlete.

Christopher Jivan can be reached at catalyst@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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