At first with this title I figured that the movie was actually going to be about finding Bobby. It soon became apparent that it was more in a meta sense though as the main character uses chess in a similar fashion so in a way the world is re-obtaining Bobby’s skills through him. It’s probably a little too soon to say for sure since Josh is so young, but he is definitely a prodigy so he is getting there.
The movie starts with Josh walking through the park with his Mom and notices some guys playing speed chess in the park. There’s a lot of trash talking going on and he quickly gets interested in the game. At home he makes a chess board of sorts with his action figures and teaches himself how to play. After that he goes to the park and fights one of the champs. Even though Josh lost he used a lot of crazy techniques that most 6 year olds wouldn’t have been able to do. Eventually he starts to play the game seriously and the parents hire a coach named Bruce. Thing is, Bruce has very radical views on chess and is trying to teach Josh to be a meaner person and to hold people in contempt. Can Josh prove that he can win without changing himself for the worse?
This is definitely a pretty enjoyable film. I have to admit that Josh being a bit older would have been nice though. It would have taken away from the prodigy part though. He’s not a bad main kid even if he makes some questionable moves at the film goes on. There is a fight or two where it feels like he threw the match on purpose but the film actually plays it off like he may have lost legitimately by the end. If he wasn’t in the right state of mind then it is reasonable that his play would suffer as a result although to that extent is a little odd. I guess we do have to take into account the fact that all of the kids in these tournaments are pretty well versed in the game so making one or two big mistakes could be fatal.
Josh receives a lot of pressure from all sides on being better at chess which does come close to breaking him. I am glad that he ultimately did not become a mean kid though and with thew support of his Mom was able to escape the tutor before things escalated too far. Bonnie gets less of a role than some of the other characters, but all of her scenes are solid. She doesn’t give an inch when Bruce makes various demands and clearly doesn’t care for the guy fairly early on. Chess is important, but she doesn’t want Josh to lose any other part of himself in the meantime. At some point Chess had become more than just a game which was dangerous.
Meanwhile Josh’s Dad got a pretty big role. Fred got pretty excited when Josh began to get really good at Chess. He is proud of him, but then at the same time the victories started becoming a big part of Fred’s life as well. He did enjoy being in the spotlight and got fairly possessive of Fred. After a while he wouldn’t even console Josh that a loss would be okay as he expected the win every time. Fred never goes off the deep end as Bonnie brings him back from that and ultimately he is able to remember what is really important. Fred and Josh go fishing and do a lot of the other fun activities they used to do before Chess and that gives Josh a more balanced life.
Bruce is the teacher and he’s definitely the worst character in the movie. The film goes too far in painting him as an antagonist for you to like him much by the end. Part of it goes back to how Bruce grew up since he is used to everything being strict and applies it in his teaching. Once he starts to tell Josh to hate everybody and skips games that’s when it goes too far. I also don’t get Bruce’s rationale here. He’s teaching Josh how to play Chess but doesn’t want him to play in the park or enter tournaments? What is Josh going to do with these skills then? The tournaments part I was particularly surprised about. Fred accuses Bruce of just wanting to make money and he may be right. 60 an hour to hang out is crazy since Bruce wasn’t even playing Chess with him in every meeting. I think once they kicked him out of the house that really should have been it for his screen time in the film. It was too late for him.
You also didn’t need Bruce to return because Vinnie smoothly stepped into the mentor role. While his style of play is primarily advantageous for speed chess, the fundamentals don’t go away. I also agree with him that it’s best to play to win as opposed to “not to lose.” because at the end of the day you should be aiming for victory. He’s the most entertaining character in the film and I was glad he was invited to watch the match in the end. He was a great friend for Josh and was the only one who was there for him 100% of the time. Vinnie doesn’t hold grudges and just seems like a fun guy. Vinnie’s the kind of guy you’d want to play in a chess match as his constant banter helps make the whole round more enjoyable as well.]
The movie also tackles the unique issue of being the best in your field. It’s something you see from a lot of people in real life as it’s a tough spot to be in. If you lose then everyone’s disappointed in you, but if you win everyone will either dislike you for beating the underdog or at the very least won’t be impressed because you always win. A lot of times the player at the top ultimately retires or just tries to get a lower ranking because the pressure is too much. For a kid this would especially be difficult.
Overall, You’ll need to like Chess a lot to get the most out of the film, but the story is strong enough where you can watch just for Josh. I think the only weak part of the film is all of the flashbacks about Bobby Fischer because it didn’t really feel all that relevant. You could cut him out of the film and nothing would really change. If anything it just took away from the main story but I suppose the film was trying to go for some parallels here. Based on what we hear about Bobby, Josh is already a much kinder player and that should take him far. Based on the epilogue we get, he already made quite a name for himself in Chess.