Queen of Katwe Review: A Familiar, But Still Fun, Game

PHoto Credit:http://variety.com/2016/film/global/lupita-nyongo-queen-of-katwe-european-debut-london-film-festival-1201813348/
There’s nothing new about director Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe. It’s an inspiring true story of unlikely young underdogs overcoming their surroundings to achieve glory in a sport you wouldn’t normally associate with their upbringing. The Disney-fication of this routine tale insert a cheesy score to help with the emotion when the script can’t quite sell the moment on its own. Yet, despite itself, Queen of Katwe succeeds on some level. There’s an infectious feel-good vibe when you see the kids celebrating their own win or another’s. As it turns out, this story is done over and over again for a reason, mainly that it works.

Set in Uganda, the film follows Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) as she takes up chess in her small, poor village under the tutelage of Coach Robert (David Oyelowo). But her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) not only starts to miss having her daughter’s helping hand, but worries about the life that chess teases her with. In her eyes, surely it cannot last.
The strongest portion of the film meditates on what’s best for Phiona. We’ve seen the trials and triumphs of a prodigy on screen before, but this discussion of her expectations after victory or disappointment is a fresh dose of reality in a film too warm for its own good. It of course doesn’t really go anywhere, with the film’s Disney-friendly tone ringing true through the delightfully cheesy end credits. It’s a give and take of course, and the balance here is good enough that nothing is really lost. But there’s definitely a missed opportunity here on what a different take on this story could really dig into.
Still, you have a wonderful performance from Nyong’o, somehow only making her second live-action appearance here since 12 Years a Slave, that elevates the duller moments into something higher. She provides the balance Queen of Katwe needs to strike to work. For the most part it does, but then some ideas are just too familiar to ever really take off, not matter how much passion is put into them. Grade: B
By Matt Dougherty

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