Mira Nair Adds Masala To Sports Prodigy Movie
Mira Nair takes us on a blindingly colorful yet bumpy ride to the slums in a small town called Katwe in Uganda and shows us how a young girl earns the title of the film by playing chess. An unlikely sports film, the movie captures lots of human emotions, but drags along, unable to keep our attention on the 64 squares.
This movie falls into the same gigantic pit that most sports movies crash into: repetitiveness and predictability. Yes it’s yet another story of a prodigy that comes out of the hopelessness of slums bogged down by humiliating poverty and then shines at an unlikely sport. Yes, yes, you have seen the formula before: there are sports tournaments where the prodigy wins, the winning streak ends because of pride or sudden wealth and either the prodigy fades away, or overcomes all odds and wins again, this time with real heart.
We’ve seen it in the neverending Rocky franchise, in the numerous baseball movies (and cricket too), golf and horseracing movies, even the unlikely game of carrom has similar plot structure. Queen of Katwe is not different. Girl from slums discovers chess and becomes a champion!
‘It makes my brain sharp!’ young Phiona tells her sister Night. Her sister has chosen the easy way out of the slums: she has found a man who takes her on rides on his motorbike, gives her food and dresses her up. But Phiona believes chess can rescue her from her life.
The young Phiona, Benjamin and the other little kids who play chess and are part of the Pioneers club will make you laugh with their innocent antics.
‘Ketchup is the best thing in the world!’ they say, and you want to agree.
‘Spice for the fish, spice for the rice!’ they kids sing and dance at the market and you are there to do that little jig with them.
Lupita Nyong’o is simply fantastic as Phiona and Night’s feisty single mother who has two other kids to provide for. She is haughty and will not ‘put out’ for anyone even if she has to lose her home. She brings so much to that role you unconsciously imitate her disapproving, ‘eh!’ long after the film is over.
And the coach played brilliantly by David Oyelowo makes you believe in the good that is left in the world.
That said, it still becomes a, ‘How much chess are we going to watch?’
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)