Tagline: The true story of the death of innocence and the birth of an artist
Synopsis: Film adaptation of street tough Jim Carroll (based on his novel of the same name) about his loss of innocence, drug addiction and rebirth as an artist. The story follows young Jim as his dream of playing professional basketball begins to unravel amid teenage sexual angst, heroin and news that his best friend is dying from cancer. Soon, he turns to the streets for money and ultimately prostitutes himself to feed a drug habit.
Meat & Potatoes: I must admit that my connection to Jim Carroll‘s work prior to this movie was a bit incomplete – though others had suggested I take a look long before I finally did. While the film is praised for a realistic portrayal of adolescent angst personified, the ‘harrowing world of drug addiction’ seems dated if not often heavy handed and unrealistic. What stands out to me outside the two hours of ‘based on a true story’ is Leonardo DiCaprio long before he realized he was a big movie star – or listening to others tell him so. I think this film is a powerful progression from his earlier work in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – of which I am a stalwort fan. If you’re not familiar with the director of ‘Grape’, Oscar nominated Swedish director Lasse Hallström – (who by-the-way directed almost all of Swedish pop group ABBA’s trendsetting music videos in the 70s and early 80s) – who directed such films as The Shipping News (2001) with Kevin Spacey and Dame Judi Dench, Chocolat (2000) with Alfred Molina and Carrie-Anne Moss (who was great in The Matrix franchise not to mention one of my favorites as Natalie in Memento), and The Cider House Rules (1999) among others.
Outside of Donnie Brasco (1997) this is a fine, albeit creepy performance by character actor Bruno Kirby as the insatiable coach and terminal pedophile ‘swifty’. Lorraine Bracco is here too as mom, though she might always be remembered (at least by this fan) as Dr. Melfi and Karen Hill wrapped up in one. Ernie Hudson and Mark Wahlberg seem untethered, future talents uncultivated in direction from Scott Kalvert who faires only moderately in his next film Dueces Wild seven years later with Stephen Dorff. I’ve never been one to be swayed by a story because it happens to be true or loosely true or based somewhat on the facts as they happened – but then again, truth is subjective.
The Closer: Leonardo DiCaprio is a standout in The Basketball Diaries and should be a must see for anyone interested in a solid, character driven story with plenty of good supporting actors and truthful performances. While the drug element of the story is by far the weakest link here and hardly stands up over time, I enjoyed this film and I think you will too.