Issue #48: Shuffle Along 🔀
Love & Basketball + Cats
Usually, when we’re planning this newsletter, we try to pick films that at least sort of go together. It makes it easier to come up with halfway punny titles and keep our thoughts in some semblance of order. But occasionally there are weeks like this one, where we forget to sync up ahead of time and end up writing about wilding disparate films in wildly disparate genres. In this issue Zosha writes about the enduring power of Gina Prince-Blythewood’s Love & Basketball, while Cate regards Tom Hooper’s Cats with utter disbelief. They don’t really work thematically, but we think they at least make for an amusing read.
Zosha on Love & Basketball
Something I often think about — as a critic, a viewer, a human who needs to learn to manage my own internal monologue — is the gulf between what I expected something to be, and what it actually is. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep this discussion focused on how that applies to movies for today. I often try to let movies be what they are, and judge them accordingly (did they achieve the goals that it feels like they were actually aiming for, rather than the better movie I concocted in my head? How did they do that?); sometimes your expectations of what they are guide you too much. That was somewhat the case when I watched Love & Basketball for the first time as an assignment from a movie exchange I have going with a friend.
In my head, I expected the (as I understood it, highly-lauded) film to deftly balance two lead characters’ ambitions in, well, love and basketball. I thought it would be about their feelings being built from the sport, branching off into other places, and always returning to a comforting home within each other as they wrestled with the outside world and their talent at the sport.
For those who have seen it, you’ll know this is basically what Love & Basketball is about, with a few modifications: Monica and Quincy grew up next door to each other, and very quickly came to dislike have an averse reaction of each other despite an overwhelming bond for love of the game. We see their lives in four quarters, from the initial meeting as elementary schoolers; senior year of high school and recruitment; freshman year at USC; and post-grad professional and personal developments. And we see them struggle with how to love and be loved as an ambitious person; Monica hopes to be the first woman to play in the NBA (real fans know the WNBA didn’t happen until 1997), while Quincy hopes to become a better basketball player than his dad.
OK so back to the theme here: What struck me watching Love & Basketball is how unprepared I was for the incredibly grounded, at times painfully true emotional stakes laced into almost every interpersonal story. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood imbues emotional clashes with a gravitas, but an understanding one. When Quincy goes to set the record straight with Monica over his cheating (or something adjacent, at least), he stumbles over his words, aware that he’s committed an offense that he didn’t need to do and seeing through the crystal clear mortification of hindsight. But when Monica offers an olive branch he turns it down; as it turns out, he didn’t come here to make up, he came here to break up, because he is going through something he doesn’t think she has time for.
Whether he’s right or wrong is somewhat beside the point. What’s so elegant about Love & Basketball is how aware it is that these fights so infrequently happen in a world in which there’s an undisputed right and wrong, a winner and a loser. The scene is messy and unfocused and so perfectly crystallizes what it feels like to get hit by an emotional left hook. And you see this over and over again in Love & Basketball, between Monica and Quincy, their parents, themselves and their parents, themselves. It calibrates a wonderful stability between these big moments of melodrama with the down-to-earth moments that can wallop you.
It’s these moments that feel delightful to stumble upon, like a dash of the perfect seasoning you weren’t expecting to enhance all the other flavors. Love & Basketball loomed large in my head as a sports rom-com; I was so delighted to see my expectations fall short of reality.
Cate on Cats
Originally I intended to review this sincerely and then I got about 10 minutes in and realized that would be a fool’s errand. So instead, here’s thirty thoughts and questions I had while watching Tom Hooper's Cats:
This movie is nearly two hours long. A movie about cats. For two hours.
So what happens in is movie is… LOL JK this movie has no plot.
I have a deep craving to know the mental calculus that Idris Elba undertook before signing on to play an evil fugitive magic cat and share scenes with Rebel Wilson and Taylor Swift.
Why is all of the music nonsensical? The songs are gibberish and have no melody? How?
What the fuck is a Jellicle cat?
Did I do myself immeasurable harm but watching this… sequence of events reluctantly captured by film?
JENNIFER HUDSON HAS AN OSCAR.
Is Grizabella supposed to be a… prostitute cat? Extreme Fantine vibes from that one.
Why do some of the cats wear people clothing, but some of them skin their fellow cats and wear them for warmth instead?
I hope Beyoncé goes on tour soon because Les Twins deserve better than this.
What is the working scale of these cats? Sometimes they are regular cat-sized and sometimes they are proportionally the same size as a mouse. How?
Who decided which cats got boobs and which cats were neutered?
I cannot believe I had to wait 70 minutes for Tayla to show up and expose how bad the post-production effects are.
Why is Macavity so naked? Why are his eyes green? Why are the other cats such haters?
What did the dailies look like with everyone dressed as a half-cat and the scenes all in green screen?
Who approved dancing roaches and when can we bully them?
I wonder if Tom Hooper looks back on the day that he signed on to direct this film as the greatest regret of his life?
Ian McKellen is a gay icon! Why are we letting him be abused like this???.
James Corden? Him, I can't even talk about.
Grizabella is the only cat with a banging manicure. Classic Hays Code symbol of prostitution (or so I've heard/just made up.)
Lmaoooo what the fuck is this???
Judi Dench said, "fuck it the cheque cleared."
I actually really enjoy watching dance onscreen and I wish there was more of Victoria's ballet dancing.
Cats go to heaven… in a hot air chandelier?
I finally understand that one episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
A cat is not a dog. No shit.
T. S. Eliot was high as fuck wasn't he?
I'm so glad I never spent money to see this.
Assorted Internet Detritus
Zosha: A small town comes together to save a Dalek. Learning to live on the ethos of Nomadland. On why you/I/we never had a glow up and never needed one. The things we don’t discuss about motherhood and regret. This absolutely lovely rumination on the partnership at the heart of Halt and Catch Fire.
Cate: The problem of onscreen inter-racial romance, going long on Bennifer, the perils of social media filters, teen girl makes music, but millennials did it first, a different different world, binge-watching the world away, friends on Friends, and a short story for a moody afternoon.
For issue #49, Ben(nifer) is back in town. If you liked this newsletter, help us out by subscribing. If you’ve already done that, then tell a friend. Ciao!