Friday, November 24, 2017
Things To Do

Review: 'Queen of Katwe' rises above feel good movie cliches (w/video)

RECOMMENDED READING


Queen of Katwe is in many respects your typical feel-good sports story, elevated by the ways that it does diverge from the formula.

For one, the biopic of young Ugandan chess champ Phiona Mutesi is an all-too-rare mainstream movie about Africans, much less one that's not about their suffering. The film is able to overcome some of its narrative familiarity just by showcasing characters, locations and music we rarely see on screen. Having Monsoon Wedding director Mira Nair at the helm also brings a visual vibrancy and communal energy to the proceedings.

The film never quite reaches the heights of something like Ryan Coogler's Creed, another sports underdog tale that overcame its well-worn trappings in part by centering around people of color. But it is an above-average entry for the genre and another success in a surprisingly strong year for Disney (inexplicable Alice in Wonderland sequel notwithstanding).

Based on an ESPN Magazine article and book by Tim Crothers, the film follows Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), who lives in the slums of Katwe with her single mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) and three siblings. When her older sister Night (Taryn Kyaze) runs off with a man, their dire economic situation becomes even more apparent.

She is able to find some escape when she and her brother (Martin Kabanza) stumble into a chess club being held by ministry worker Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). She proves innately gifted at the game and Robert takes notice.

Soon Phiona is traveling across the country and internationally to play in chess competitions and a way out of Katwe feels within reach. Yet she still must contend with her impoverished surroundings, her mother's concerns and her own feelings about her success.

Just by the synopsis, one can probably predict some moments sight unseen. Is there a scene where a well-off competitor treats the poor Phiona with disdain, then sputters in disbelief when she trounces him, and are there multiple chess metaphors for her life? Yes and yes.

Yet the film handles these familiar story beats skillfully and finds some unique ones as well. A good amount of the film is devoted to dealing with the headspace of Phiona experiencing her newfound fame — from an inflated ego after a string of wins to despair after a loss that she may never escape her economic situation.

It helps that the cast includes some immensely talented actors. Nyong'o, in her first prominent non-CGI role since her Oscar-winning turn in 12 Years a Slave, brings depth to the potentially cliched figure of the reluctant mother.

Should've-been-Oscar-winner David Oyelowo (Selma) is also very good, exuding warmth and decency in the mentor role of Robert. And newcomer Nalwanga impresses in what is likely the start of a long acting career.

Queen of Katwe is still an accessible crowd-pleaser in the vein of Disney's other sports films, perhaps more so than the company believes it to be. In a somewhat strange move, they decided to give the film an initial limited release typical of indies before it goes wide Friday.

Yet through its cast, director and setting, the film finds a way to stand out in the genre. And as a major studio movie about everyday Africans, starring and directed by people of color, it sadly remains something of a rarity.

Contact Jimmy Geurts at [email protected] or (813) 226-3402. Follow @JimmyGeurts.

 
Comments
Top things to do this weekend: Lindsey Stirling, Faizon Love, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live

Top things to do this weekend: Lindsey Stirling, Faizon Love, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live

PULLING STRINGS: Lindsey StirlingDubstep violist Lindsey Stirling shot to fame as a quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2010 and she has been rocking the spangles on Dancing With the Stars this season as the last woman left . But on Friday yo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
5 things to do under $5 Nov. 23-30: Craft festival, License-Free Saltwater Fishing Day, Snow Bash

5 things to do under $5 Nov. 23-30: Craft festival, License-Free Saltwater Fishing Day, Snow Bash

1. Gem, Jewelry and Bead Show and Sale: Check out these rocks when more than 50 dealers from around the United States sell crystals, minerals, beads, gems and jewelry. $5. Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
4 art exhibits to check out with family (or on your own) over Thanksgiving weekend

4 art exhibits to check out with family (or on your own) over Thanksgiving weekend

Perhaps you have relatives in town for the weekend, and you’re running out of ways to entertain them. Or maybe you’re wondering what to do with your long weekend. There’s a perfect solution for either scenario: Go see some art. There’s plenty on vi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

NOW IN THEATERS: COCO Disney-Pixar’s animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico’s annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn’t as good ...
Published: 11/22/17
Brian Setzer talks about Tom Petty, ‘The Simpsons’ and his third act with holiday music

Brian Setzer talks about Tom Petty, ‘The Simpsons’ and his third act with holiday music

Brian Setzer knows he’s overdue for a trip to Florida. For 13 years, the Grammy-winning rockabilly guitarist and big-band frontman has been packing theaters coast to coast for his annual Christmas Rocks Tour. But somehow, he keeps skipping this area....
Published: 11/22/17
Black Friday, Cyber Monday ticket deals in Tampa Bay: Amy Grant, Diana Krall, 98 Degrees and more

Black Friday, Cyber Monday ticket deals in Tampa Bay: Amy Grant, Diana Krall, 98 Degrees and more

This Black Friday weekend, you can head to your local shopping center and fight traffic to get the perfect gift. Or you can stay at home by your computer and give the gift of entertainment.A handful of Tampa Bay concert venues are offering ticket dea...
Published: 11/22/17
This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: Brian Setzer, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, 21 Savage, more

This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: Brian Setzer, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, 21 Savage, more

SWINGIN’ AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE: Brian Setzer OrchestraWhen you spend 13 straight Thanksgivings on the road, you build some traditions with your crew. "We get a big ballroom," said Brian Setzer. "I don’t know how many turkeys we go through, but ev...
Published: 11/22/17
Some ways to celebrate Thanksgiving that aren’t Thanksgiving

Some ways to celebrate Thanksgiving that aren’t Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey Day!Or is it? Sometimes life just doesn’t come together at 2 p.m. on Thursday.Circumstances mean it’s not always possible to sit around the table on Thanksgiving, a family in a Publix ad smiling over a glistening bird. Maybe family is ou...
Published: 11/22/17
Watch the unseen footage in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ trailer

Watch the unseen footage in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ trailer

Can we all agree that John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the ultimate Thanksgiving movie? (And maybe actually his best movie of the '80s? Think about it.) And though I'm sure many of us will be watching it again this holiday weekend, when...
Published: 11/22/17
David Cassidy … rest in peace

David Cassidy … rest in peace

David Cassidy was absolutely one of the biggest teen idols of the 1970s. From his lofty perch with TV's The Partridge Family, he was perhaps – along with the Brady boys – among the first male role models for kids like me who grew up glued...
Published: 11/22/17