Review: 'Boogie' Offers a Fresh Angle on a Time-Honored Genre

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 5, 2021

Eddie Huang, Taylor Takahashi in 'Boogie'
Eddie Huang, Taylor Takahashi in 'Boogie'  

Eddie Huang's coming-of-age drama "Boogie" superficially critiques the expectations of the genre while, at the same time, solidly embracing them.

Boogie is the nickname of Alfred Chin (Taylor Takahashi), a native of Queens, New York, whose parents have always (as we see in flashbacks) been a combustible mix. A neighborhood fortune teller warns them about how someone with the traits of the astrological "Dog" sign - Boogie's mother (Pamelyn Chee) - will be inclined to have little patience for the more sympathetic tendencies of a person born under the "Dragon" sign, such as his father (Perry Yung).

Boogie himself takes note of this imperfect compatibility, though he expresses his observations in a more American manner: "My mom is a controlling psychopath who doesn't love or believe in me, but she's responsible. My dad's irresponsible, but he loves and believes in me."

That complex family dynamic drives much of the movie. Dad has just gotten out of prison - "White assault," Boogie explains at one point, a concise and chilling indictment less of his hotheaded father than of a racist criminal justice system - and in his absence the chauffeur service he runs with his brother-in-law has tanked. While numbers-conscious Mom frets over a stack of bills, starry-eyed Dad fancies that Boogie is going to become an NBA superstar and make enough money to erase their cash flow problems. The ticket to making this dream come true is for Boogie to lead his basketball team to victory over a rival school in a few weeks' time, scoring a victory not over the rival team but its star player, a young man called Monk (Pop Smoke). That victory, of course, will be seen as Boogey personally prevailing over "the best player in the five boroughs," at which point full-ride athletic scholarships to the country's Top Ten schools will presumably come flooding in.

Some of those schools are already interested - but not to the point of offering up full-ride scholarships. The refrain from the scouts echoes that of Boogie's coach (Domenick Lombardozzi): The kid has got talent, but no sense of how to be part of a team.

That flaw is another of the film's driving forces. Very much a member of his generational cohort and local culture, Boogie struts around town and says outrageous things to the young women who catch his eye - young women like Eleanor (Taylour Paige), to whom he offers a dubious (and sexist) comment or two. What Boogie thinks of as a compliment, Eleanor takes umbrage at - but, over time, she starts to warm to him. As that fortune teller also says, "Love will melt the sharpest sword."

The film tells a familiar story from a fresh angle - frankly, one that should have been better explored before now. Conscious of this, Huang provides a few scenes in an AP English class in which Boogie has the chance to slam Holden Caulfield as an overprivileged white kid who's got the luxury of brooding.

But the film's structure hew close to the basic tenets that have already been well established: A big dream, a single big chance to accomplish that dream, a ticking clock, a frustrating home life, a rival, a girlfriend... and, of course, a pinch in the works that puts everything in peril.

Where the film truly stands apart is in how it pits cultures against each other. Boogie has the classic "American child of immigrants" issues, but his trash talking occasionally gives way to more gracious moments when he makes it a point to display his understanding of his cultural roots - some of the ceremonial points, anyway. His American individualism and self-centeredness just might give him the fuel he needs to achieve his goals (and his parents display their own versions of aggressive go-getting), but those more thoughtful aspects of his character are going to stand him in good stead.

"Boogie" opens in theaters on March 5.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.