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The Basketball Diaries
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story is a gritty look a group of teenage friends as they succumb to drug addiction, and as such is probably only appropriate for the most emotionally mature teenagers. Early in the film, the friends are deeply affected by the untimely death (due to leukemia) of their pal Bobby. Obscene language is the norm rather than the exception as are scenes of violence, including muggings and robberies perpetrated by the main characters. Men routinely offer money to Carroll for sex, including his coach. While there are ultimately consequences for these behaviors, scenes depicting the highs of cocaine and heroin use do convey a sense of elation and excitement. One such drug-induced dream has the trenchcoat-clad protagonist shooting his classmates –- a scene much discussed in the wake of Columbine. The total effect of the film is shown to be the source of the real life Carroll's later success. Also, the presence of DiCaprio and Wahlberg make this film one likely to pique the interest of teens.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
BASKETBALL DIARIES traces a fictionalized account of New York actor/writer/musician Jim Carroll's (Leonardo DiCaprio) coming of age. Forsaking his chance at earning a college scholarship based on his basketball talent, Carroll and his friends begin with petty crimes used to finance cheap highs like huffing. Soon they are conducting muggings, break-ins, and car robberies to get the money to score heroin.
Is it any good?
Basketball Diaries is a kitchen sink melodrama. DiCaprio's performance is his among his best, pulling no punches while conveying the relentless thirst of a junkie. Aided by a strong supporting cast, including Mark Wahlberg as his closest junkie pal Mickey and Lorraine Bracco as his mother, DiCaprio is able to create empathy for a character that seems to lose all sense of morality very early on in the film.
While the young characters do lack moral compasses, the film itself does not. There are very clear consequences for the teens resulting from their poor decision-making. In some sense this makes the film a potent moral allegory for older teens, warning them of the dangers of drug abuse and crime. However, it can also come across as heavy-handed, and cynical teens may find the film a bit too much like a stern lecture to take the points seriously. DiCaprio's performance does lessen the chance of this, but at times, it also has the unintended effect of making the wretched life of a junkie seem almost attractive. After all, with his later reputation as a club-going womanizer in tow, Jim Carroll may just seem like an unlucky version of the actor himself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how, even before the drug abuse gets out of control for Carroll and his friends, they show little respect for authority in school or at home. How does this set them on their path? How does the death of Bobby seem to contribute to the friends' increasingly negative behaviors? Why do they indulge themselves in the drugs that they have seen destroy others around them? Does Carroll's eventual rehabilitation and subsequent success make his earlier actions forgivable?
- In theaters: October 21, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: June 30, 1998
- Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorraine Bracco, Mark Wahlberg
- Director: Scott Kalvert
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: graphic depiction of drug addiction with related strong violence, sexuality and language.
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