As a film on the big screen, The Basketball Diaries is without a question a cult classic. However, I question its validity as a homage to author and poet, Jim Carroll (1949-2009), who wrote the autobiography from which the film was based on.
The original autobiography was compiled from a set of diaries Carroll wrote from the age of twelve to sixteen and, much like the film, follow his daily life as a growing teenager with a penchant for basketball, new sexual experiences and a variety of different drugs.
In Kalvert’s interpretation Jim is played by a then young budding actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who does an incredible job delivering the lines of an undeniably complex character. In one moment DiCaprio is writing poetry on the side of a basketball court while the next he is begging his mother for cash to cure him of his withdrawal pains, a role which really displayed the 19-year-old’s talent as a respectable actor.
Although often autobiographies are written with the audience in mind, solely including interesting events in the writer’s life, Carroll’s autobiography was heavily based on diary entries, which outlined his day-to-day life, which would include a series of interesting and not-so-interesting events, much like our own everyday lives. Therefore, while watching the film, which is conclusively eventful, I wondered how loosely based the film was on the autobiography.
For instance, during the film, a member of Jim’s friendship group, Neutron (Patrick McGaw), abandons the group to pursue his interest in basketball, rather than narcotics. His pursuit is later seen as successful, when Jim and his friend Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) are sitting hopelessly at a bar watching him to TV. This coincidence is fictitious and solely created for the audience.
On another occasion, Jim is left unconscious in the snow, soon after being beat up by a man in a pool house. An old neighbourhood friend, Reggie (Ernie Hudson), rescues him by taking him to his apartment, and later forces him to go cold turkey. However, in Carroll’s autobiography, there is no character like Reggie. He is a purely fictional created for the film. However, this is where the film redeems itself. After reading Jim’s diary, Reggie compliments him on his poetry but later says: “I was a little hurt I wasn’t mentioned.” This is where I believe Kalvert acknowledges the disconnection between the film and the autobiography.
Other than the differences, I believe it’s a great watch, and what it doesn’t fail to do is glamorize the intake of lethal drugs, which I believe can be the case when narcotics are the primary subject in these sorts of films.
The Basketball Diaries
director SCOTT KALVERT
director of photography DAVID PHILLIPS
cast LEONARDO DICAPRIO, BRUNO KIRBY, LORRAINE BRACCO, ERNIE HUDSON and PATRICK MCGAW
words PRIYESH PATEL
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