While the film is often packed with all the drama of a buzzer-beater basketball game, Love and Basketball nonetheless strays too many directions too often to go down in the annals of history as a great sports movie. But that may be okay because, at its heart, it’s a wonderful love story.
Quincy “Q” McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) met on the basketball court as children, becoming friendly rivals both on and off the court, trading snaps in a desperate attempt to mask their burgeoning feelings for each other. Spurring each other on, the two basketball players achieve high school glory at Crenshaw High. After a high school dance, the two kids finally kiss for the first time.
Their romance blossoms, but is benched when Q is recruited by USC, where he easily makes the starting line-up and quickly becomes a rising star on campus and a darling in the press. Meanwhile, Monica struggles to make the Lady Trojans and endures humiliation upon humiliation from teammates, coaches and her parents.
The meat of the film is this juxtaposition between Q’s candycane lane ride to the pros and Monica’s painful journey just to make the cut. Their relationship is tested to its limits during these times, and the moments between the characters alternate between hilariously funny, inspiring and heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, the film peters out, plodding along in the fourth quarter--literally, this is how the film is segmented--with far too much time spent on Q and Monica’s parents and the cliches of courtship by the pros than on their sweet, funny, wonderful relationship.
An admirable freshman effort from writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who previously shot shorts for Dave Chappelle, Love and Basketball boasts workhorse performances from young talents like Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as well as veterans Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert and Debbi Morgan.