Basketball Diaries (1995)

“Summer of Film #12 of 100”:
Before I get into anything else- what is the connection between ‘The Sopranos’ and 1995’s ‘Basketball Diaries’? Three actors from ‘The Sopranos’ are in this film- Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi from ‘The Sopranos’), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti on ‘The Sopranos’) and Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy on ‘The Sopranos’). Then I’m reading a bit more about these people and come to the realization that all three of them were in Scorsese’s ‘The Goodfellas’ as well! No explanations yet after a little time researching and googling.

Basketball Diaries is a story of a kid- Leonardo DiCaprio playing real-life writer Jim Carroll- who nearly loses everything he has when drugs threaten to take over his life. This has the potential to be a spectacular story- and it is, since it actually happened. The problem is in execution. The movie doesn’t take it’s subject matter seriously enough. It pulls its punches- keeping most of the violence, suffering and consequences off screen, to the effect that to a youngster the worst effect drugs would have on you was that you felt like you had a bad case of the ‘flu. And you couldn’t play basketball.

There are moments when the film does show promise- mainly owing to a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. The supporting cast lend it the credibility it needs, since the same credibility is lacking in it’s presentation of 16-year old runaway drug addicts on the streets of Manhattan. The cast includes Julliette Lewis (previously w/ Leo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), Mark Wahlberg (who will co-star with DiCaprio again in Scorsese’s The Departed next year) as Jim Carroll’s loosecannon friend, Michael Imperioli as Jim’s friend dying of Leukemia and Lorraine Bracco as Jim’s mother.

Barring probably Edward Norton, Leonardo DiCaprio has had one of the best managed careers in Hollywood in the past two decades. He chooses his films extremely well; always keeping them fresh and never falling into a pattern. How many romantic comedies do you think he must have been offered post-Titanic? And yet, look at the list of directors he has worked with- Spielberg, Scorsese (now thrice), Woody Allen, Baz Luhrmann, Lasse Hallstrom. Like I said- only Edward Norton has had a more interesting career in recent times.


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