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Slam Dunk


*Love and Basketball (PG-13)
New Line Cinema

I hate basketball. Not the fabulous professional men floating through air stuff, but the real game, the one where I have to put my own hands on a ball. The last time I tried to dribble I was almost felled by an awful flashback to seventh grade where all students in my junior high were required to play inter-mural basketball each winter. As the shortest kid in my grade, bookish, and singularly uncoordinated with bouncing balls, I would rather have suffered the torments of firey hell than be out on the boards for even a quarter, but suffer I did, losing every game.

My miserable personal experiences with the sport did not, however, diminish my enthusiasm for Love and Basketball, a lovely falling-in-love-with-the-boy-next-door movie, energized by a great dose of Title IX. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) meet at age 11, when she moves next door in a black upper middle class neighborhood in L.A. Monica's aspiration is to be the first woman player in the NBA; Quincy's aspiration is to follow in his father's footsteps and also play in the NBA.

Even at age 11, they've both got game, and their ferocious love of the sport brings the two young people together, as friends and enemies. Through high school, college, and beyond, we follow both their relationship and their basketball careers, as he heads for the NBA and she cannot.

First time writer/director Gina Prince-Bythwood has created a delightful film, that mixes young love with good old fashioned sports rivalry. Sanaa Lathan's Monica is tough and driven and far from perfect, but her obvious passion for basketball, and her attraction to Quincy are very compelling.

There were numerous small moments in the film that were absolute treasures, not least of which was the first really erotic scene I can remember in a Hollywood film where the teenage participants use a condom. Prince-Bythwood should be nominated for an Oscar for that scene alone.

If you're not afraid of some explicitly sexual situations, I'd definitely recommend taking your daughter, or your son, to this one. It is a wonderful love story, but also a great view of the complex relationships between men and women who want the same thing. Just the visions of strong, athletic women sweating it out on the basketball court is worth the price of admission. And even if, like me, you wouldn't be caught dead dribbling a basketball, any woman who has tried to make her way both competing against and loving men will recognize herself again and again in this well-paced, -written and -acted love story.

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