Director: Mira Nair
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita, Nyong’o
A Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess. (Source: IMDb)
A heart-warming true story such as this one surely deserves the Disney treatment, and there’s no denying that they were probably the best people to bring this gorgeous, vibrant, and beautiful story to life. I knew very little about the true story which inspired this film, but as my day job (yes, I do have one!) is working for a charity that works in developing countries such as Uganda, I knew it would be the sort of story that would be right up my street. Well, I wasn’t wrong!
The story is the star of this show, and it is beautiful from start to finish, well told, and I believe portrayed accurately and appropriately. It is the sort of film which demand you beam from ear to ear when it is happy, but also one which will move you and stir up emotions when the moment is right to do that as well. It strikes this balance pretty well; it is rich, colourful, and surprisingly funny as well.
Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo both deliver superb performances. Nyong’o’s is honest, devastating and powerful, Oyelowo’s warm, comforting, and equally honest. The film doesn’t necessarily demand Oscar winning performances from either of these two, but they both put in great work, and nail exactly what the film is expecting of them.
Whilst the film does “Disneyfy” a lot of things (we’ll come to that later), it does still do a fairly good job of showing the struggle and the hardship that the families living in slums, such as the one portrayed, go through every day. A recurring theme which particularly stood out was the fact that the kids felt constantly torn between their duties to their families and helping out with the business and chores, and the desire to just want to be a kid; to play, to have an education, and to not have to worry about growing up too fast. That sense of frustration was really evident through the character of Phiona, particularly when she discovered that her hidden talent for chess could just be the thing which got her out of there for good. The sense of desperation about the way things were, and the determination to do something to change them, was something which worked really well, and it had a strong, clear message to take away from it.
It’s such an uplifting, delightful story that you sometimes forget it really happened, and that the characters portrayed were real people, but there is a wonderfully touching epilogue which brings this all home, so that is definitely worth sticking around for!
As alluded to earlier, the Disney treatment does work for this story, but there were a couple of moments which were a bit too “Disneyfied”, and this detracted a little from the bigger emotional and dramatic moments. There were a couple of pretty devastating things which happened, but it did feel like the film was trying to brush them under the carpet, to keep the overall tone positive and upbeat. I didn’t want the film to be weighed down and too emotionally heavy, but when it is evident that it is going to have a happy ending, I think it could’ve utilised the dramatic and emotional moments a bit better, and this might have added a bit more depth to the narrative and tone.
Whilst I liked a lot of what Madina Nalwanga did as Phiona, and it does feel a little wrong to criticise when this is her first acting role, I found her delivery a little flat at times. I don’t think she was bad per se, but when you have Nyong’o and Oyelowo bringing their A game, her inexperience was perhaps more evident.
I saw this movie and you should too. I’m not sure this is a film I would watch again, but it is hard to deny its charm. It is funny, uplifting, powerful, heart-warming, and really just plain delightful! It is an easy watch, and one which will just leave you with a nice, warm fuzzy feeling afterwards, and sometimes, that’s all you really need out of a film!
Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.