Eddie Huang’s Boogie Disappoints

Posted by Greg on Mar 25, 2021 in Movies, NYC |

We’ll just come right out and say it. We’re Focus Features junkies. Ever since the boutique, art-house film group started releasing films in 2002 we’ve done our part to try and see as many Focus Feature films as possible. It started with Far From Heaven and 18 years later we’re still trying to watch whatever they put in front of us. While they’re still prone to mistakes we can say we like at least 75 percent of what they’ve released to date.

For the last month or so we’ve been hearing radio commercials for Boogie, a coming-of-age drama about an Asian-American teen in Flushing, Queens and his goal of playing in the NBA. Having grown up a few miles from Flushing and being a fan of films Blue Chips, Finding Forrester and Varsity Blues the film seemed like a winner. We were fortunate to view the film last night via a Focus Features viewing party and well, we’ve still got some questions.

The film is written and directed by Eddie Huang, an American chef and restauranteur who hosted the TV show Huang’s World for Viceland and whose autobiography Fresh Off The Boat was adapted into an ABC sitcom of the same name. Boogie was written by Huang in five days, filmed in less a month and channels some of his story including his love of basketball, feeling adrift as a minority in America and the perils of domestic abuse.

Given the recent murders in Atlanta and the renewed vitriol towards Asian Americans since March of last year there’s plenty of reasons to see why the film was released this weekend. For hip-hop fans Boogie also marks the only acting role of fallen artist/producer Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson. Utilizing a mostly unknown cast Boogie has its heart in the right place but never really finds its footing. We’re never one to criticize a running time of 90 minutes but in this instance Huang hurried the film along resulting in a head-scratching and awkward conclusion. Protagonist Alfred “Boogie” Chin is played unevenly by newcomer Taylor Takahashi while the actors portraying Boogie’s sphere of influence stumble from a screenplay that at times feels forced. The Asian actors are at their best speaking in their native tongue and when the film veers away from that is when it loses its energy. But that’s just the first of many problems.

The richest tapestry of the screenplay and film is the dynamic between Richie’s mother (an excellent Pamelyn Chee) and his father (equally excellent Perry Yung). Without those roles and their arc Boogie just feels like a modern attempt to reinvent Catcher in the Rye for the TikTok teens. Fittingly Catcher in the Rye also makes an appearance in the film but in a way that is anything but subtle. Dead Poets Society this is not.

In the end Boogie is a tepid attempt at portraying the Asian American story. If that’s what you’re after we recommend Kajillionaire or Lucky Grandma. If a hip-hop film is what you’re craving you might do better with Adam Sandler’s Uncut Gems or the recently released Beastie Boys Story. And if a coming-of-age story is more your cup of tea, there’s more than enough to go around. Personally we’re partial to last year’s Electric Jesus which is still waiting widespread distribution.

Bogged down by a contrived and derivative plot the film ends up with a vague otherness to it that never reaches its full potential. Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that Boogie reveals a vague and somewhat misplaced understanding of what it means to be an Asian American in America. The most authentic version of that most likely comes in the opening credits as Huang films various streetscapes of Flushing, Queens.

In the end this sports drama feels too derivative, too half-baked and too contrived to be worth the 90-minute investment. For the first time in what feels like decades, Focus Features has released a film that pales in comparison to the rest of its catalog. Save your money and instead see Robin Wright’s Land, Carey Mulligan’s Promising Young Woman or Kevin Costner’s Let Him Go.

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