Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Breaker Upperers, or: All My Life I’ve Prayed for Some Movie Like You

It’s almost March, meaning Feminist February is drawing to a close.  I’m sad the month is ending, but happy to report we’re wrapping up this month on a positive note with dramatic break-ups, surprise Kiwi cameos, and all of the ’90s vibes you can stand.

The Film:

The Breaker Upperers

The Premise:

Two best friends find their relationship and shared business venture in jeopardy when clients get too close and an ex arrives in town.

The Ramble:

In addition to being besties, New Zealanders Mel and Jen are business partners in a rather unique profession.  Their job?  Deliver bad break-up news for those who go to extreme measures to avoid it themselves.  The duo can hardly be faulted for lacking creativity; their methods include song and dance, fake deaths, police investigations, and surprise pregnancies.

Though a rather cynical line of work, Mel and Jen run a profitable business and enjoy living their best lives free of romantic entanglements.

9.png

That is, of course, until the day everything changes.  After Jordan, a sweet but clueless client, walks into the office, he disrupts the usually reliable business model.  Mel feels guilty for using Jordan’s unhappiness to make money and happens to find him quite attractive too.

Complications abound when Jen’s ex, who also seems to be the one that got away, arrives back in town.  His presence surfaces tensions between Mel and Jen as he was dating both women secretly when he broke Jen’s heart.

Despite Mel’s misgivings about the latest breakup case, the duo arrives at Jordan’s rugby match to cause a scene.  Jordan’s girlfriend Sepa is a tough lady, and not one to be trifled with.  As a result, when Mel pretends to be Jordan’s pregnant lover and Jen his mother, the plan does not go as expected.  However, at the end of the day, Jordan is single and Mel is free to have a fling with him.

7.png

Meanwhile, the ladies’ history catches up with them as a client’s girlfriend approaches them at lunch for an update on her partner’s disappearance.  Mel and Jen demonstrate an impressive commitment to keeping up the facade that they are cops investigating the case, going so far as to show up at the police station in full uniform and posing as birthday strippers for a real cop.

Inevitably, the true nature of Mel and Jen’s work is revealed, leaving Mel feeling guilty.  A fight between our dynamic duo about Mel becoming too attached to clients and Jen avoid feelings altogether finally breaks up the band.

11.png

As both Sepa and Jen have been ditched and want their partners back, it’s time for a grand gesture to prove their devotion.  But is an expertly choreographed K-Ci and JoJo dance routine enough to heal old wounds and reunite these former besties?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I feel this movie was made for the Blog Collab.  Obviously the pro-friendship/anti-romantic themes are everywhere in some of our favorite picks.  Also the weird, offbeat humor had me in tears.  Mel makes an especially cringeworthy joke about a superhero named Vulvarine during dinner with Jen’s parents that cracked me up.

My only criticism here is that Mel’s bisexuality seems to be mentioned purely for laughs.  I got tired of all of the jokes about Jen and Mel being romantically involved.  Friends, lovers, life partners–who cares?

Though this is not a musical, we get not one, but two incredibly ’90s-influenced song and dance numbers.  The first one, set to a Céline Dion song, is everything to me.  I pray to the powers of the universe that the next film with our two stars is a musical or just a series of music video parodies.

I love both of our leads, Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek (who also co-wrote and directed this film), but honestly Ana Scotney as Sepa steals the show.  She manages to inhabit the tough girl stereotype while lending the role a vulnerability hidden beneath the surface.  Sepa also gets my absolute favorite line of the film when the breakup with Jordan throws her for a loop:  “All the times we played Dragon Ball Z–does that mean nothing to you?”

Speaking of this film’s cast, there are some delightful cameos here too.  I know you can just Google the cast, but the fun of these appearances is in the surprise.

Is this my blog wife’s bff for life or would she hire the breaker upperers to make sure she never has to face it again?  Find out here!

Advertisements
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Whip It, or: The Bo City Rollers

Bookshop owner-operators, scantily clad entertainers at a sports bar, Texas roller derby girls–what else could these characters have in common but Feminist February?

The Film:

Whip It

The Premise:

When she secretly joins a roller derby team, teenaged Bliss finds a second family but puts her other relationships–and skeletal system–at risk.

The Ramble:

In addition to her rather unfortunate name, teenager Bliss has inherited the burden of her mother’s expectations:  specifically, her expectation that Bliss will take the beauty pageant scene by storm as her mother did.

After an incident with blue hair dye gone awry, it becomes clear that Bliss’s mother takes pageants much more seriously than her daughter.  In fact, even Bliss’s younger sister seems more excited about competing despite her young age.

Though stuck in the small Texas town of Boden, it’s not all bad.  Bliss has her fellow waitress and bff Pash to keep her company and get into all of the best kinds of trouble with.  As long as she has her bestie, Bliss seems resigned to her fate as a perpetual beauty contestant.

2.png

That is, until one day while shopping with her mother, Bliss sees a group of giggling women swan in on roller skates.  From flyers they pass around, Bliss learns these are derby girls and decides she will find a way to get to the derby in Austin.

Under the guise of attending a high school football game, Bliss and Pash drive to Austin to check out the roller derby.  Bliss is immediately interested in both the sport and a generically cute guy.  After derby girl Maggie Mayhem invites Bliss to try out on Tuesday, she schemes to cover up her absence with her parents, find a route to Austin via public transport, and conveniently forget the rule that players must be at least 21.

Trying out for the Hurl Scouts is no cake walk–the women are fast, intense, and fully ready to body check competitors in this contact sport.  As a speedy skater, Bliss is a perfect contender for the role of jammer, the only one on each team who can score points.  The jammers will attempt to lap the other team members, scoring a point for each lap.  Fellow team members will help their jammer along while trying to sabotage the other team’s jammer–frequently with physical contact that can leave a vicious bruise.

4.png

Despite Bliss’s speed, she timidly avoids altercations with her competitors–kind of a problem in a contact sport.  However, she does join the team and earn her derby girl name, Babe Ruthless.

It’s only after joining the team that Bliss learns the Hurl Scouts are notorious in the league as constant losers.  As the song goes, girls just wanna have fun, and the team really leans into its reputation.  They certainly aren’t improving their odds by ignoring their long-suffering coach and refusing to carry out the plays from his painstakingly created play book.

While bonding with the team after hours, Bliss runs into the cute guy again at a party.  She learns that he, like every other 20-something dude since the beginning of time, is in a shitty band that thinks it’s destined for greatness.  Oliver, which I think is actually a nice name and better than this dude deserves, and his band do seem to have some success as they do have an album.

10.png

With Bliss as jammer and the coach’s plays guiding their games, the Hurl Scouts begin to enjoy success too, winning against some of the other teams for the first time ever.  Everything seems to be falling into place for Bliss, who also gets serious with Oliver in an underwater sex scene that looks logistically very difficult to accomplish.

11.png

However, things inevitably begin to unravel after the police break up a derby that violates fire safety regulations.  Caught with beer in hand, Pash is arrested.  Bliss, who escapes with Oliver, doesn’t realize the trouble her bff is in.  To make matters worse, Bliss’s parents learn the truth about her roller derby nights as a result, Bliss’s rival Iron Maven discovers that her fiercest competitor is just 17, and Oliver will shortly be off on tour with the band.

Having alienated everyone she cares about and put the Hurl Scouts’ chance at victory in jeopardy, will Bliss be able to make things right while following her dreams?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast here is absolutely stellar:  Ellen Page (even though she sometimes falls into the trap of playing the same character over and over again), Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Drew Barrymore…I could go on.  Additionally, this is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.  Not sure if Drew decided against sitting in the director’s chair again because I can’t think of another reason we live in a world with no more director credits for her.

As well as Bliss’s coming of age story, I love the focus on the ladies here and their relationships.  Bliss and Pash’s relationship is everything to me, and the rapport among the Hurl Scouts is so uplifting.  The film approaches Bliss’s difficult relationship with her mother realistically but doesn’t paint Brooke as a one-dimensional monster, which is refreshing.  As for the men, if you’re not here to support Bliss, you’re not welcome at all.  Men are definitely on the sidelines in this film.

However, there are a few issues that stood out to me with the film too.  The entire storyline with Oliver feels unnecessary.  I know the sexual awakening scene is basically a requirement of any coming-of-age film now, but I gave zero fucks about it.  At least this film doesn’t idealize teenage romance with what is essentially a mediocre white dude who plays guitar slightly above average.

I also felt like I was missing some further explanation of Brooke’s insistence on Bliss’s beauty pageant participation and opposition to roller derby.  Is the pageant supposed to pay for Bliss to attend college?  Did pageants mean so much to Brooke that she thinks it’s important for Bliss to carry on the tradition?  I would’ve liked a bit more depth as the (spoiler) reversal of her parents’ strong anti-derby stance feels a little too convenient.

The roller derby name “Jabba the Slut” deserves its own corner of appreciation, though.

Would my blog wife roll with this one or knock it out of the ring?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Support the Girls, or: Double Whammy

Small business owners, determined managers–we really expected Feminist February to uplift and inspire us.  However, both of our first picks this months have been something of a bummer.  You’ll see what I mean with this week’s pick, in which even a title with a clever double entendre fails to deliver on the promise of lighthearted fun.

The Film:

Support the Girls

The Premise:

The caring manager of a sports bar experiences a hellish day that forces her to reevaluate her priorities.

The Ramble:

To say Lisa isn’t having her best day ever is an understatement.  The manager of the struggling bar Double Whammies–a local twist on the Hooters franchise–begins the day with the news that thuds emanating from the attic are those of an attempted burglar who got stuck in the building’s vents.

1.png

Today is the day of a big fight that the sports bar is counting on making big business.  Before the real work begins, Lisa squeezes in a car wash fundraiser to “support the girls” that isn’t quite approved by the bar’s owner.  After receiving the news that one of her former girls is in trouble after running over her boyfriend in a rage, the caring Lisa is determined to help her out with the funds raised in the car wash.

Lisa is incredibly protective of her girls, treating them more like family than employees.  She is especially close to cool and collected Danyelle and bubbly Maci, both hardworking ladies who are equally willing to support their boss.

2.png

As you may imagine, some of the customers are creepy, hostile, rude, aggressive, or all of the above.  Lisa suffers no fools and is quick to throw out anyone caught behaving inappropriately.  The regular customers bring challenges of their own, including overly nosy and observant lesbian Bobo (but personally I fucking love Bobo).

Complicating things further, the cable at the bar is suddenly cut off.  Despite Lisa’s best efforts, the cable provider doesn’t seem inclined to speedily restore service.

When owner Cubby arrives on the scene, not only does he lecture Lisa about the cable, but he also points out the questionable legality of the car wash fundraiser.  Cubby seems determined to burst Lisa’s bubble as he shows her the location of a soon-to-be-opened competitor that could close down Double Whammies.  After a road rage incident and a fight in which Cubby fires Lisa (yet again), she decides to finally accept the termination of her job.

7.png

Luckily, Lisa’s husband is willing to pick her up and take her back to work to get her car.  Unfortunately, the car ride will also involve a rather serious conversation about their future together as a couple.  While her husband is depressed and seems to have more or less given up, Lisa is a workaholic and fails to make time for their relationship.  Prognosis?  Not good.

Finally, Lisa receives disappointing news about Shaina, the girl she worked hard to raise money for at the day’s earlier car wash.  The disillusionment is final and thorough.

Will Lisa swallow her pride and go back to the bar or step forward into an uncertain future?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really expected to like this one more than I did; however, I may have myself to blame.  Given the double entendre title, the movie posters with confident-looking Regina Hall, and perhaps just wishful thinking, I expected a positive, upbeat comedy about the ladies of Double Whammies banding together through tough times.

The film takes a much darker and more realistic approach to the emotional toll of treating employees as family and allowing work to consume your life.  While Lisa cares deeply about the girls she employs, the owner doesn’t share her concern, and this emotional investment disadvantages her.  Ultimately, it makes Lisa much more inclined to fight losing battles that cost her a lot personally and emotionally–battles that even the owner doesn’t seem invested in.  And honestly, her efforts to support her employees in tough times aren’t always appreciated; Lisa’s good intentions as a manager tend to go too far.

The bond between Lisa, Danyelle, and Maci is great, though.  And Bobo 4 life; would watch a sequel about these 4 ladies.

Would my blog wife support this one or let the ladies hang freely?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Bookshop, or: Shelf-Employed

Hallelujah, it’s Feminist February! Not only is this month a celebration of ladies in film, but it’s also the birth month of the Blog Collab! This week, we vicariously fulfill our dreams of opening the quaintest fucking bookshop ever to exist.

The Film:

The Bookshop

The Premise:

A woman in 1950s England faces local opposition to her plans to open and operate her own smalltown bookshop.

The Ramble:

Recently widowed Florence Green is devastated by her husband’s death. However, as stiff upper lip is the English way, she tries to make the best of things by achieving her lifelong dream of opening a bookshop.

1.png

In order to do so, Florence must overcome a surprising amount of opposition from the members of her sleepy coastal town. Only one person in town seems to be much of a reader, so the bank finds little reason to believe her venture will be a solid investment. This leaves Florence to rub elbows at fancy rich people parties which, in true book nerd fashion, she is painfully terrible at carrying off.

Unwittingly, Florence’s bookshop plans have set up queen bee of the town Violet as her archnemesis. Violet has grand plans of her own for the historic building that happens to be Florence’s home: she envisions a grand arts center, despite the small town not having much art and culture to go around.

Even with the scheming of Violet and her toady Milo, Florence manages to convert her home into a cozy little bookshop. The shop is a true labor of love as Florence is the only employee until she hires an assistant, 11-year-old Christine. Though Christine gives zero fucks about reading, she’s nevertheless a dedicated and hardworking employee. The two bond over their determination to keep the bookshop alive and thriving.

6.png

Meanwhile, Brundish, the only reader in town becomes more and more invested in Florence’s success. In addition to being the only game in town, Florence has the knack for tracking down the perfect book for Brundish. After introducing him to Ray Bradbury, she asks for his opinion on selling Lolita in her shop despite its questionable morality.

7.png

Deciding to go all-in for Lolita, Florence stocks 250 copies and scandalizes the entire town. Has she finally gone too far? It seems likely when Florence is forced to close the doors on the shop. Though Brundish stands up for her against Violet, in a tragic twist, Florence ends up losing her last remaining ally.

Is there any hope left for Florence and her little bookshop?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

As a feminist being into it when ladies are small business owners, I wanted to like this. As a book person, I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally wanted to like this. Florence is basically living my dream life here with her small bookshop in a beautiful little coastal town. But honestly, most of this movie is boring AF and I couldn’t even get invested in the whole cute little bookshop fantasy. And this time it’s not the chemical inbalances in my brain because I have pills for that.

The characters are not super compelling either. Even Bill Nighy’s character is just kind of blah, and that makes it difficult to invest in any of the character relationships. The relationship between Florence and Christine is supposed to be the heart of the film, but it falls flat and fails to create the wistful ending it aims for.

Not to be too spoiler-y, but this film could also be called Christine: That Escalated Quickly.

The landscape and adorable little shops and cottages are lovely, though.

Would my blog wife invest in this one or scheme to shut it down? Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Princess Cyd, or: Is It Too Late to Say Soirée?

I’m sad to wrap up Feminist February…even though, let’s be real–in this Blog Collab, it’s always Feminist February.  We’re back in our indie groove yet again for a film centered around female relationships and the ways they shape our leading ladies.

The Film:

Princess Cyd

The Premise:

A teen visits her novelist aunt for a summer, leading to discoveries about herself and several of the women in her life.

The Ramble:

Cyd, a seemingly well-adjusted teen living in South Carolina with her father, is currently driving everyone up the wall.  Under the pretense of checking out Chicago’s colleges, Cyd goes to stay with her aunt Miranda for a few weeks in the summer.

Miranda, a successful novelist, lives a relatively quiet life in the house where she grew up with Cyd’s mother.  Since Cyd’s mother died violently nearly 10 years before, the family has drifted out of touch.

Though Cyd has a boyfriend at home, she is immediately attracted to a barista she meets after getting lost on a run around the neighborhood.  When the barista, Katie, invites Cyd out for a walk, they later have to slow dance on a balcony for art.

2.png

Meanwhile, Cyd has deep conversations with her aunt about life, religion, sex, and death.  You know, polite family small talk.  Cyd encourages her aunt, who frequently writes about single, divorced, or unhappily partnered people, to date a longterm friend.  However, Miranda seems pretty keen on maintaining her solitary but fulfilled life.

1.png
Sexual tension or awkwardly trying to get out of a conversation that just won’t end?

The two women get into the routine of sunbathing in Miranda’s garden, though initially Miranda claims she doesn’t even own a bathing suit.  Cyd, despite not being a reader, picks up Miranda’s books and starts to gain some insight into her aunt’s life.

7.png
Everyone in this film always looks at least this flawless.

If the film can be said to have a structured plot, it’s all about Miranda’s soirée, a word she repeats approximately 4,835 times.  Cyd decides to make a splash at the party by borrowing a tux from Katie–damn, grrrrrrrl.  She pulls off the look.  She really fucking pulls off the look.

5.png
If Idris Elba isn’t the next James Bond…Cyd?

After the party, Cyd and Miranda get into a fight about Cyd’s actions, but it quickly delves into deeper philosophical and spiritual realms.  They are snapped back to reality when Katie experiences a crisis with her brother’s friend, and Cyd and Miranda are there for her.  It is through Katie that we learn the meaning behind the film’s title, as well as discover what really happened to Cyd’s mother (spoiler alert:  it’s really sad).

Will Cyd and Miranda allow the summer to change them or is it better to keep the past in the past?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First off, the aesthetic of this film is beautiful.  Jessie Pinnick (Cyd) is gorgeous, so there are tons and tons and tons of close-ups on her face.  At times this gets uncomfortable and starts to feel voyeuristic to me.  I do like our main 3 ladies a lot and enjoy that they all have unique perspectives and approaches to life that complement each other rather than conflict.

The thing I really appreciate about the dynamic between Cyd and Miranda is that they influence each other and draw out the best rather than transforming.  Cyd is incredibly direct and unafraid to ask questions, but she learns to do so in a way that’s inquisitive without diminishing viewpoints different from her own.  Miranda, in the act of sunbathing in her backyard with Cyd, embraces some of her carefree attitude and confidence in her body.  If this were a generic rom-com, Cyd would set Miranda up with her friend.  But instead, Cyd learns to accept her aunt’s independent, aromantic life is not equivalent to an empty existence.

Confession time:  while I liked the ideas and themes here, I did find the plot very meandering.  There was something that didn’t quite click for me–maybe since my last pick was a Disney film I was expecting bigger drama and more sentimentality.

Would my blog wife attend a soirée with this one or annoy it with a series of overly personal questions?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Irreplaceable You, or: Christopher Bird Watchin’

What do you do with a terminal cancer diagnosis?  Get angry, despair, feel shock?  If your answer is to plan out your significant other’s romantic life without you, you may belong in this week’s film.  You may also want to reevaluate your choices, but hey–do what you want.

The Film:

Irreplaceable You

The Premise:

A young woman with a rare form of cancer decides to find a partner to care for her fiancé after her death.

The Ramble:

Pulling no punches, narrator Abbie immediately tells us she is no more; she has ceased to be; she has passed on; she is dead.  Sadly, Abbie was only in her 30s when she passed away.  Though she seems to be at peace, she worries about the future of her fiancé, Sam.

3.png
I am obsessed with Abbie’s button dress.

After growing up together, Abbie and Sam are finally ready to tie the knot when it seems that Abbie is pregnant.  However, the gods are such fucking assholes, and it turns out the growth in Abbie’s stomach is a malignant tumor.  The wedding plans are decidedly off, though initially the two try to carry on as usual.  Sam continues to teach in his role as a TA, while Abbie keeps working as something or other to do with children’s publishing?

Abbie does join a support group that crochets together, where she meets Christopher Walken, Kate McKinnon, and Steve Coogan.  I thought Kate and Steve were completely wasted here, as 90% of what they do is sit around in a circle and crochet.  Tami Sagher plays one of the supporting characters in the group, and I think she has much funnier lines here (though Kate does have a good one about Catholic yoga).

4.png
If it works for Kate, it’s good enough for me.

The dynamic between Abbie and Christopher Walken (Myron) is great as the two bond immediately, discussing life, rare birds, and ugly vests.  Myron tries to help Abbie accept things as they are and spend more time focusing on the present–advice that is largely ignored.

9.png
Birding or filming a low budget version of Rear Window?

While Abbie undergoes treatment, she doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  She begins to worry about what will happen to Sam when she’s no longer around to help him.  Will he be able to take care of himself?  Will he go through a “slut phase” as Christopher Walken predicts?  To ease her fears, Abbie begins scoping out women for Sam to date after she dies.  This is both incredibly morbid and cringingly anti-feminist as Abbie judgmentally dismisses cat ladies, sluts, and general weirdos.

Just when Abbie is ready to give up, she meets a waitress who really clicks with Sam.  However, Abbie isn’t as up for all of this as she thought she was and realizes getting what she wants may be the worst possible outcome.  After Sam finds out about Abbie’s plan, he’s upset about her scheming and attempts to control his life.  Will the couple make up before it’s too late?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest problem with this one is the uneven tone–I never totally understood if this was supposed to be funny or tragic because it fell flat on both counts.  There was a moment between Abbie and her sassy nurse that felt genuine, but many of the other emotional moments felt empty to me.  It’s also confusing to see so many comedians in roles that aren’t that funny, though Christopher Walken is great, of course.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Abbie does well despite lack of interesting material–both leads are pretty bland.  Abbie is a bit of a nightmarish type A stereotype, while Sam is so devoid of personality he’s practically a blank canvas for Abbie.

There were a couple of other issues that occurred to me throughout the film.  For one, how are Abbie and Sam not concerned about money?  They seem to be existing on a TA’s income, paying for expensive treatments, and (spoiler) later planning a wedding.  The other thing that really bothered me was Abbie’s narration as a…ghost?  This is never explained, and Abbie does admit she’s having trouble leaving Sam behind, but this isn’t necessarily the focus of the film.  This part of the story feels like an aside and gives us a rather unsatisfying ending.

That being said, Abbie and Sam’s apartment is fucking perfect and what my filthy hipster dreams are made of.

8.png
Drooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool.

Would my blog wife find a partner for this one or let it die alone (too soon)?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Queen of Katwe, or: The Chess Version of Billy Elliot

Feminist February may be in its 3rd year(?!?!?!), but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for firsts.  This week’s film is our first Disney feature on the Blog Collab, first set in Uganda, and first (and probably last) all about chess.  Definitely not the first to make me cry an embarrassing number of times.

The Film:

Queen of Katwe

The Premise:

The true story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who rose quickly to become a chess master.

The Ramble:

For those of you, like me, who always want to know what a title means–Katwe is a slum in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where Phiona grows up.  One of four children, Phiona takes care of her younger siblings and sells maize to support the family.  Since her father died, Phiona’s single mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o!!!), struggles to keep the family together and under a roof.  Phiona’s older sister, Night, has had enough and takes off with her scooter riding boyfriend.  After this act of rebellion, Night helps the family financially but is essentially dead to her mother.

1.png
You kids get off my lawn!

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo!) is an engineer searching for a job in Kampala.  When he discovers all of the engineering jobs are completely about who you know rather than what you know, he must settle for a part-time gig as a coach with a small ministry.  Luckily, the family has a second string as his wife Sara is an elementary school teacher.

In Robert’s chest beats the tender heart of a chess nerd, and his passion project with the ministry is trying to get all the kids hooked on chess.  He hopes to develop the talents of his pupils in order to show the privileged what they can achieve.  No unresolved childhood issues there at all.

10.png
Yeah, you’ve already lost me, dude.

Enter Phiona, stage right.  When she stumbles upon the chess club in action (and gets free food–possibly the only reason I’d ever stick around for chess), Phiona decides to try playing despite some of the kids being little assholes who tease her for being dirty.  Though initially confused by the many rules of the game (I’m there with you, girl), with practice Phiona learns to master the game–even winning against the group’s current champion.  In a scenario that feels way too real, Phiona actually feels bad about winning and apologizes for it.

Soon, Robert figures out a way around the snobby prep school’s efforts to exclude the team from a chess championship.  However, it turns out stuck-up rich kids are the least of his problems when Phiona’s mother finds out what she and her brother have been up to.  Suspecting ulterior motives and fearing her children will be unable to earn money for the family, Nakku forbids them from playing chess again.  That is, until Robert promises he will find a way to get them into school if they’re allowed to play.

I think it’s no spoiler to tell you that the rich kids are absolute douches and Phiona wins against the smug little assholes.  Still, she doubts her abilities and believes she only won because her opponent let her.

4.png
NERDS.

Nevertheless, things seem to be falling into place until Phiona’s brother is in a terrible accident, the family is left without money, and they are evicted from their home.  Phiona also starts to realize the injustice of the chess world.  Though she has beaten players with the world-class mentors, she goes back to a dissatisfying existence where mundane chores take precedence over the exciting(?) game of chess.  Despairing of her life, Phiona belongs neither in Katwe nor among the wealthy.

6.png
If the prize for winning a chess championship were fries and ketchup, I might be a bit more inclined to make an effort.

After a series of wins, Phiona is determined to continue playing chess–and, vitally, to make money from it.  She and Robert travel to Russia to compete professionally, which may help her earn a stipend to support her family.  However, things do not go as planned, and a disappointed Phiona is ready to give up.  When the rainy season washes away their home, the fraught relationship between Nakku and Night reaches a boiling point, and Robert faces a difficult career decision, does this mean the end of Phiona’s dreams?

Clearly not or it wouldn’t be a Disney film.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wouldn’t call this a new favorite, but it has a stellar cast, a fairly action-packed plot (for a film about chess), and a genuine heart holding it all together.  Thematically, this has a lot in common with Billy Elliot, though the PG rating and Phiona’s set of challenges take a different angle (and there are significantly fewer songs by the Jam in this one).  I am ridiculously susceptible to crying at inspirational speeches, and David Oyelowo has more than his share.  Damnit, dude.

Phiona (and Madina Nalwanga in her first film role?!??!) in particular is a wonderful character to watch, with a quiet determination tempered with a realistic amount of self-doubt, commitment to duty, and frustration.  We are of course rooting for her the whole time, but the film doesn’t gloss over the limitations that poverty, gender, and geography place on her ability to succeed.  Nakku is also incredibly sympathetic as a mother whose concern is the survival of her family–even if that means settling for a less than ideal future.  As a single mother with no interest in remarrying, Nakku is fucking fierce and a genius at survival.

I want Lupita Nyong’o to adopt me and David Oyelowo to be my life coach.  Or I could just bring them coffee, whatever.

Was this a checkmate for my blog wife or did she enjoy it about as much as a game of chess IRL?  Find out here!