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Film / The Basketball Diaries

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"You know what's wrong. It used to be about getting high and playing basketball. But now, it's just about getting high with you. You're blowing it, Jim."

The Basketball Diaries is a 1995 biographical crime drama film directed by Scott Kalvert and based on the memoir of the same name by Jim Carroll. The film features a rather star-studded cast, including an early starring role for Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll, with Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, James Madio, Michael Imperioli and Ernie Hudson among the supporting actors.

The film depicts Carroll's life growing up in New York City as a 16-year-old with his group of best friends, mostly being hoodlums and delinquents already. Jim gets introduced to drugs and eventually gets kicked out of high school as he starts to spiral out of control. He quickly finds himself estranged from his friends, begging his mother for money, and living on the streets, even offering himself up at times just to get his next score.

On the brink of death, a chance encounter ends up altering the course of his life...

Tropes used include:

  • Accidental Murder: While holding a man at gunpoint on the top of a building, Mickey accidentally pushes him off the edge.
  • Badass Longcoat: Jim, during his dream of shooting.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Jim, played by the very handsome Leonardo DiCaprio, does have his face genuinely bloodied and disfigured at some points from drugs and getting beaten.
  • Big "NO!": Jim lets out one as Mickey accidentally pushes someone who ripped off the two of them (in terms of drugs) off the top of a building.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Perhaps more on the sweet side. Jim does get his life back on track, but only after serving 6 months in incarceration once he hits the bottom of his downward spiral. Pedro is still into drugs but is on amicable terms with Jim, while Mickey has a sentence of 5-15 years to do from his Accidental Murder. In the end, only one out of the three really learned their lesson.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Not quite a boarding school, but the Catholic high school they attend features a caning scene almost immediately in the film, with threats of a repeat the next day.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Before the first basketball game shown in the film, Swifty apparently walks in on someone masturbating and reminds them that that's not allowed before games.
  • Censor Shadow: In the scene where Jim masturbates naked on top of a building, most of his body is obscured by the darkness, but we do see his right arm...moving.
  • Cue the Rain: The boys are shown playing an impromptu game of basketball in the rain, complete with Jim hanging off the rim, only to rhetorically ask if he's ever talked about the first time he did heroin.
  • Descent into Addiction: Jim becomes addicted to cocaine and heroin over the course of the film.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jim is being raised by a single mother during the movie.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Arguably a 1990s equivalent to Requiem for a Dream aimed at teenagers and young adults.
  • Drugs Causing Slow-Motion: A drug-induced Dream Sequence where Jim shoots up the school features him talking in slow-motion.
  • Epic Fail: Mickey and Jim trying to play in a game on drugs... the wrong drugs, in fact (they had an extended discussion on which pills were the uppers, since the supplier Pedro never found out, and ended up brashly taking the blacks when they were implied to be the pinks). They move so sluggishly and play so horrendously that it's pretty funny to watch, such as when Mickey gets hit in the face with the ball and promptly falls to the floor.
  • Et Tu, Brute?:
    • Neutron abandoning Mickey and Jim as they get kicked from school and the basketball team, instead choosing to continue a successful career as a basketball player. To rub salt in the wound, Mickey and Jim walk into a bar just as Neutron happens to be on TV in an all-star game.
    • When Mickey, Jim, and Pedro rob a candy store, Pedro is so loopy from drugs that he can't respond properly, which leads to Mickey booking it outright, and Jim only following suit when he sees cops coming.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Jim. Then again, he is into poetry and writing in general.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: The final scene is initially angled to seem as if Jim is directly speaking to the audience about how Drugs Are Bad, but the camera gradually turns and reveals that he's actually speaking to a crowd.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Jim. With Reggie first, but it fails, then in jail.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: It's unclear whether Diane's an actual hooker, but she tries to help keep Jim alive with places to sleep when he starts living on the street.
  • Karma Houdini: Zigzagged with basketball coach Swifty trying to sexually molest Jim in the shower. While Jim does slam his face into the wall and then takes the money offered for sex (and silence), Swifty doesn't suffer any other consequences.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: It's very clear that Mickey killing a man near the end was an accident, judging by his shocked reaction when the man falls off the building and his fully taking in what just happened afterwards.
  • Nightmare Sequence / Mushroom Samba: While receiving fellatio from another man, Jim hallucinates his basketball coach Swifty seeing him and laughing.
  • Red Filter of Doom: When Jim first takes drugs, as he's writing in his notebook next to the sleeping blonde, the screen is notably bathed in a red tint to offer this effect of the drugs' immediate hold on him.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Mickey ends up getting his arm broken.
  • Stock Scream: The Howie scream is heard as Mickey pushes someone who rips him and Jim off with bad-quality drugs off the top of a building.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Mickey, on Jim and Pedro.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Teenagers taking drugs and being violent.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: As Jim continues to narrate throughout the film, it becomes clear this was after his redemption and thus makes the events tinged with some uncertainty as to whether they are slightly polished to avoid reliving too many harsh moments such as what happened to Bobby.
  • Wham Shot: As a well-dressed and crestfallen Jim walks to the altar of an otherwise-empty church, there's a shot of Bobby's head visibly sticking out of a coffin.