Eddie Huang makes a promising debut with Boogie.
American author, chef, restaurateur, food personality, producer, and attorney Eddie Huang makes his feature directing and writing debut in Focus Features, Boogie. High-school student Alfred Chin (Taylor Takahashi) Boogie, to his friends — dreams of making it big in basketball. Determined to score a coveted spot in the NBA, a rarity for an Asian-American, Boogie pursues the college scholarship track. At the same time, his overbearing mother (Pamelyn Chee) plots another path for him with a Chinese recruiter's help.
Honing his skills on the cutthroat basketball courts of Lower Manhattan while navigating high-school commitments, a burgeoning romance with his classmate Eleanor (Taylour Paige), and parental strife at home. Boogie finds himself in a relentless battle for his future, culminating in a New York City streetball showdown with the number-one ranked Monk (Pop Smoke).
Boogie opens in 2001, with the title character's parents visiting an Asian fortune teller after learning they are expecting. I commend Huang for starting his film this way, as it gave me an extraordinary glimpse into a culture that I wasn't that familiar with. When we meet Boogie, he's a carefree teen wanting to live his best life at the school he's just transferred to.
While the wise choice to get butts in seats would've been to maybe cast someone from BTS, kudos to the casting director for casting the unknown Taylor Takahashi in the lead role. Takahashi has a ton to carry, but the fire-time actor does a commendable job making his feature-film debut. Takahashi humanizes Boogie and has excellent chemistry with the cast. This includes his coach, played with the right amount of ferocity by Domenick Lombardozzi. I also liked seeing rising actor Jorge Lendeborg Jr on screen again, who has nailed the sidekick role.
In the role of Boogie's love interest, we have the elegant Taylour Paige. Following her brief by memorable performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Paige gets a chance to shine here as the female lead. Huang's script doesn't really push the angle of interracial dating and instead treats Boogie and Eleanor's romance as organic.
Portraying Boogie's rival Monk and our villain is late rapper Pop Smoke. I'm an old head, so I had never heard any of Pop Smoke's music, but he showcased a natural screen presence as an actor. It's a shame that we will never get to see him on screen again since I would've liked to see him in another role to show his range. The film makes the wise choice to only show Boogie and Monk in three scenes, adding to the tension between them. Boogie knows that Monk is a better player than he is, but he also knows he's a challenge that he has to overcome.
Huang's script also touches on the pressure that youth athletes go through when waiting for a scholarship or going another route and playing ball overseas. I liked how the script fleshed this out and its ties into Boogie and Monk's climactic showdown.
Finally, given that the film is set in New York, you know that Hip Hop plays a part in the movie. Composer Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, collaborate to provide the score for the film. While the Brooklyn Drill sound that Pop Smoke helped popularize serves as a tribute to the performer.
Running a brief ninety minutes and featuring some impressive basketball action, Boogie is worth a look. While the story is formulaic, Eddie Huang adds another talent to his already impressive repertoire, and I look forward to his next film.
Final Grade: B
Boogie is playing in theaters now.