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Movie Review: 'Love and Basketball'

Friday, April 21, 2000

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

All's fair in love and basketball, but for every three-point swish there are bound to be a few fouls. Gina Prince-Bythewood documents both games of one-on-one, going airborne from her television writing career and coming down with a slam dunk in her first feature film.

'Love and Basketball'

RATING: PG-13 for sexuality and language

STARRING: Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Sanaa Lathan

DIRECTOR: Gina Prince-Bythewood

WEB SITE: www.loveand

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars


The scriptwriter from "A Different World," "South Central" and "Felicity" could have turned her teen-age love story into an insulting sex romp. She could have made it a predictable jock comedy or filled the screen with angry young black men eager to get even with The Man. Instead writer-director Prince-Bythewood offers a smart and sensitive account of young love using basketball as a backdrop and a metaphor for the four periods in every hard-court romance.

First Quarter: The tip-off starts when 11-year-old Q, son of an NBA star and king of the neighborhood driveway keys, discovers that he's out-dribbled, out-rebounded and out-scored by girl next door. Being beaten by Monica is a humiliating situation for the young hotshot, one that continues to dog their relationship as they mature both on and off the court.

Young Glenndon Chatman and Kyla Pratt are cute and funny as battling, upper-middle-class puppy-lovers whose drive to win spoils their first kiss.

Second Quarter: High school is hell, but basketball is heaven for the two young athletes. Q, smartly played by Omar Epps, has all the advantages as his school's high scorer, but Monica is beginning to feel the heat from boys who think she's less than feminine, girls who treat her like she's less than human and college recruitment scouts who recognize her talent but question her ability to play smart. When Monica and Q show up out of uniform at the same high school dance, their thoughts begin to drift beyond the court. Film newcomer Sanaa Lathan is outstanding as a character who conquers insecurity, confronts romantic adversity and shoots a mean foul shot.

Prince-Bythewood films the smartest roundball court sequences since "Blue Chips," mixing dramatic action shots with powerful slow-motion footage that offers insight into the game and the players' personalities. Some tunes from the cool R&B soundtrack help to propel the story.

Third Quarter: Lovers and stars of the USC men's and women's teams, Q and Monica have a sensitive relationship until Monica gets a chance to start just as Q's is falling apart. Instead of dropping her dreams and running to his side, she stays with the game. He quits her and school to enter the pro draft. Surprisingly for a female writer and former college basketball aspirant, Prince-Bythewood seems to side with Q -- Monica should stand by her man at the expense of her game and career, despite that fact that he's being a self-centered jerk. It's the one inconsistency in a film that otherwise shows women that their dreams count, too, and they don't have to take physical or emotional abuse.

Fourth Quarter: Monica is playing pro ball in Europe where the fans actually show up to watch female athletes. Q is engaged, a minor NBA player bouncing from team to team until his showboating results in a career-ending knee injury.

Alfre Woodard as Monica's housekeeping mom has little to do except fold clothes and mix dough until a wonderfully revealing sequence of mother-daughter bickering and back-biting that culminates in a great big hug. With the clock ticking toward Q's impending marriage, Prince-Bythewood sets up a dramatic, midnight one-on-one between the former rivals and lovers. The stakes: love. Sure it's cliched, but it's done exceptionally well and proves that the difference between winning and losing is in how you define the game.

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