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The Jim Carroll Website Home > Background > The Basketball Diaries > The Basketball Diaries Film Guide > Review by Robin Ladrach

The Basketball Diaries Film

Note: This review was written as an e-mail in response to my comments on the film's biographical inaccuracies. --Cassie Carter, Webmaster

I have to agree with you completely on the subject of the movie The Basketball Diaries. The movie is so different from the book that really, one could start all over again and make another movie that would be far more complex, entertaining (for me at least), with a NC-17 rating no doubt. And there lies the heart of the matter: they didn't want an NC-17 rating and they also wanted to make a movie that would appeal to teenagers. Therefore, the producers considered several elements to be crucial:

1. simple narrative
2. sanitized sex scenes (I'll get back to that later)
3. high morality quotient
4. our hero comes clean at the end and Mickey and Pedro end up getting fucked
5. let's set up the Jim character in a worse situation (high school drop-out, alone except for his single mom) so that we can judge him a modern-day kid-at-risk

I saw the movie first, and was only motivated to buy the book when I realized that the best language in the movie was from the voice-overs adapted from the book.

What a surprise! The further along I got in the book the more disappointing the movie seemed in retrospect. Thank god I hadn't read the book first: it would have been a very depressing, frustrating evening at the movies. The spectacular Winkie/Blinkie scene was dreadfully sanitized, on two levels. First, the director decided to set the Jim character up as a sexual naif with Blinkie as the predator and with none of the creatic gymnastics that went on in the book. Second, the filmmakers must have had a problem with the Jim characters mixing with a girl of his own class so they stuck him with Blinkie the upper-east side, upper-class Barbie doll. What, did they think that the scene would somehow be more "moral," or "clean" if he had sex with an upper class girl? Unfortunately, many in the audience might think so.

What a complex, rich movie we'd have if only the director and screenwriter had gone ahead and given the Jim character all the amibiguity of the Jim character in the book. Jim in the book is doing some stuff that I don't necessarily admire (swiping wallets and purses from poor sods walking around the city and giving his parents grief), but he's doing a hell of a lot of other really funny, entertaining stuff and they left so much of that out in their effort to tell the story as merely a "descent into the world of drugs" cautionary tale. One of the great things about the character in the book is how he oscillates among various environments via drug pushers, fellow addicts, school, home, various girlfriends, basketball, the moves his family makes around Manhattan. We got very little of that in the movie. I also got the impression of the character in the book being a wanderer among environments with many, varied friends who shared certain chunks of time with him. But he had small group of friends who he hung out with constantly the way the character in the movie does. The result is that the social life (if you can call it that) of the character in the movie is much more bland and simplistic than that of the character in the book. The character in the book seems to take the social-Darwinist attitude of "hey, I've got friends who I like to hang out with and do things with, but primarily I've got to watch my ass, and go wherever I need to go, even if it means leaving everyone else behind." (much more honest.)

Finally we get to the homophobia issue. When I saw the movie I was rolling my eyes at the two scenes (the locker room with Swifty and the public bathroom with a client) where so much distaste was shown at the possibility of sex between men. This was before I had read the book. After I read the book I was angry at how far the screenwriter/director/whoever deviated from the actual narrative of the character's sexual encounters with other men. Of course the director/screenwriter/producers must have shrugged their shoulders and said "hey, we're not homophobic, it's just that no major distributor will give us a deal if we show the Jim character quite comfortable hustling male clients in Manhattan and actually enjoying the power that it gives him in some situations. Besides the audience won't be able to handle it." It's this kind of thinking that keeps Hollywood in the dark ages. I think I have yet to see a movie from a major studio that shows two men even kissing, let alone enjoying some good, hot sex. Thankfully I live near Manhattan and can see a good selection of independent films about gay relationships.

If I were Jim Carroll sitting there watching the film at the premiere I would have been staring at the screen with my mouth hanging open like a deer caught in the headlights, wondering "what the hell happened?"

   

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