Boogie is the feature debut for writer-director Eddie Huang, who previously worked on the show Fresh Off the Boat. His first film plays like one of those debuts that are perfectly harmless and a solid-enough calling card, without delivering a showstopping movie. The culturally specific story at the heart of Boogie offers some nuance to the tried-and-true coming-of-age formula, but at the end of the day, Boogie feels like another movie in a crowded field.
Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi, making his acting debut) is a high school basketball star, living with his parents in Queens. His father (Perry Yung) is unrelentingly strict and hard on Boogie and his mother (Pamelyn Chee) puts pressure on him in different ways. Boogie’s father has been to jail and isn’t afraid to push Boogie around, while his mother is worried about the family’s finances and managing the past due bills, which arrive to their apartment every day.
Boogie is a great basketball player, and he knows it. He isn’t afraid to take control of the team on the court, which often puts him at odds with his coach, who has to remind him he’s not the only player on the court. Boogie loves basketball, but he has to love it enough to yield a scholarship to a great college, because his mother knows the grim reality of their ability to pay for a school. She doesn’t care if he loves basketball or not, just that the right people see him play before he selects his college.
Outside of all the pressure at home, Boogie is also faced with the added pressure of being a teenager in high school. He starts exploring his interests in girls, particularly his classmate Eleanor (Taylour Paige), who he begins dating. Keeping up with his classwork and trying to manage a social life are just distractions in his mother’s eyes.
Boogie wades in all of the familiar territory associated with these kinds of stories but takes time to zero in on Boogie’s experience as an Asian student living in New York. His father never shies away from reiterating the extra pressure Boogie faces just for being who he is, should he ever fulfill his aspirations of playing in the NBA.
As a first feature, Huang’s screenplay is what weighs Boogie down a bit. The performances from the new actors are a bit rough in delivery, but Huang’s screenplay feels like a word salad of how one thinks teenagers talk today. When Boogie reaches for authenticity in that sense, it’s often just outside of its reach.
Boogie is about as inoffensive as a movie can come, but never delivers the passion that likely went into making it and telling this story. Huang has a vision but before his next feature, there is work to be done finetuning what he wishes to see on the page and screen.
SCORE: ★★ 1/2