This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Jim Carroll's cult book The Basketball Diaries, published in 1978, describes in grungy detail how the author passed in a few short months from being a Catholic high school basketball star to being a strung-out heroin addict who turned tricks for drugs. Like many such stories, it lingers lovingly over the horrors, and ends with unseemly haste after happiness is regained.
Will there ever be a market for a movie about a character who hurries past his drug phase because he can't wait to tell you what he did after he pulled his act together? Probably not. If there's anything more boring than a juicy parable with a moral at the end, it's the moral without the parable. And so "The Basketball Diaries" informs us in great detail that if you get strung out on drugs, you are likely to find yourself living desperately on the streets, peddling a body that looks less and less like a good buy.
Of course the Carroll book was more than this; he struck a personal note, of a kid who despite his suffering tried to turn his experience into poetry. The problem with Scott Kalvert's film is that the camera tends to make the experiences too literal: Jim, the hero of the story, is so desperately sick and unhappy that the romanticism seems unconvincing. He plays basketball at night in the rain after his best friend dies of leukemia, and it just looks wet, not touching.
As the movie opens, Jim (Leonardo DiCaprio) is on the basketball team at St. Vitus High School in New York, where a perverted priest salivates while spanking naughty students with a big paddle and the rest of the class watches. This scene owes more to Victorian pornography than to any actual parochial school in 20th century America, but no matter: The message, I guess, is that the teachers are such hypocrites you might as well go out and destroy yourself.