Eddie Huang’s Boogie is a sports film most interesting for its unusual punctuations than the blunter plotting it fills itself with. A story of a cocky basketball player torn between the competing expectations placed upon him, it begins with a prologue of his parents visiting an astrological matchmaker warning them of their naturally conflicting perspectives. Their response spells certain doom, which Huang imbues with a knowing wit. Later, their son’s first flash with romance flares with an enticing rush of connection, lust felt down to the core that feels equally as fateful as his parent’s disharmony. Such moments in Boogie feel in dialogue with each other, finding insight into its characters’ futures while rooting them in a sensory here and now. Sadly, it’s just sparks that transcend the film around them.
Boogie transpires precisely as you expect at almost every turn. Starring Taylor Takahashi as the film’s namesake athlete, the film follows a young man driven towards an end goal while burdened by all the steps needed to get there, including transcending his own teenage ego. His Chinese immigrant parents (Pamelyn Chee and Perry Yung) clash with full force, pitting their opposing views on Boogie’s future in basketball as an easy target. As Boogie starts a relationship with his suffer-no-fools classmate Eleanor (a dynamic Taylour Page), he stumbles with showboating against his struggling team and his mother plots him into a contract with a Chinese team. Boogie’s dreams are in jeopardy from forces both without and within.
The film presents us with a young man intentionally drawn with his bristling behaviors front and center. A lengthy scene that labors the off-putting nature of Holden Caulfield makes the comparison (or damning wishful thinking) to its protagonist with straining obviousness. Boogie is intentionally a jerk, but the film never allows us to connect with him despite wanting him to succeed. Instead, it excuses his selfishness and his misogyny (the film’s relationship to women would be described as tenuous, at best) and never has much to say about his worst behavior. Even with all the context it provides its protagonist, the film still reduces him to an average teenage asshole. It may be an inversion of the usual boring heart-of-gold bland sports movie hero, but it’s still bland.
At first, Boogie has the potential to be an atypical sports film, one that keeps the gameplay almost entirely on the periphery. But that doesn’t mean it escapes cliches, or that it has much depth to its more primary focus. The film is more interested in the pressures placed on young Chinese men than the game, but stalls in examining that due to Boogie’s inability to engage or grow in a meaningful way. He gets laid, he argues, he stays thinking it’s him against the world. Perhaps Huang intends to write the film as a bleak look at the impossibility of rising above socioeconomics, toxic masculinity, and parental turmoil, but the sense of destiny he creates falls remarkably flat. It’s hard to tell which is less self-aware, the protagonist or the film itself.
Ultimately, the film mostly fumbles with its simplistic resignation to Boogie’s situation and his mentality without offering much perspective on what creates this dynamic. Though its brighter moments show Huang’s sense for visual flair that cuts to the psychological core of the drama, vast stretches of the film are missing that energy, only highlighting its defining creative inertia. Someone call a time out.