It’s a movie about a poor girl (Madina Nalwanga) being raised in a ramshackle African village by a single mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who comes under the tutelage of a chess coach (David Oyelowo) who would rather be an engineer, and who quickly discovers she has a gift for the game. Plus a nascent hunger for a better life than the two possibilities that loom before her: Mom’s constant toil and want and big sister’s transformation into a sexual plaything. So yes, there’s a formula at work here, just as there is a formula in a classic chess opening. And yes, that formula will involve lessons about chess that very neatly turn out to be lessons about life. What of it? Success depends on execution and the small, telling surprises that come from anticipation and mastery. Happily, director Mira Nair knows just how to deploy her excellent cast, giving weight to the drama of both Mom and coach without ever forgetting her sweet young queen. And kudos to Disney for leaving a few rough edges on its smoothly built piece of family entertainment.
Length: 2 hours, 4 minutes