When 11-year-old Quincy McCall tells his new neighbor Monica Wright that he’s going to be in the NBA and she’ll be his cheerleader, he’s evoking the athletic status quo where men triumphantly compete while women stand on the sidelines. It’s also a defense mechanism because Monica nearly beats him in a game of driveway basketball. Quincy’s response is to shove Monica so hard that the fall leaves a permanent, kisslike scar on her face.
So begins a tempestuous union between the kids that’s second only to the formative one they have with their parents: Quincy’s father, Zeke (Dennis Haysbert), plays with the Los Angeles Clippers, making a living but never achieving the iconic status he craves; while Monica’s tradition-bound homemaker mother, Camille (Alfre Woodard), doesn’t understand why her little girl insists on being such a tomboy.
Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood divides the film into four quarters which take Quincy (Omar Epps) and Monica (Sanaa Lathan) through high school, college and beyond as they continually redefine their relationship while pursuing individual hoop dreams.
The most fascinating part of the film is their freshman year at USC, where their volatile blend of attraction and competition is fully expressed. This couple, who love the game equally, are in very different positions on the court: Q quickly establishes himself as a collegiate star, while Monica struggles to funnel her passion into effective play.
Monica, who faces an uphill struggle as an athlete despite Title IX, gets most of the screen time and, like in A Star is Born, her ascent is matched by Q’s decline, as he stumbles on the golden path paved by the basketball establishment.
But this love story is no tragedy. Gina Prince-Bythewood asserts that reconciliation is possible only when men and women stand on equal ground. It’s only then that all’s fair in love and basketball.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.