A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Little Game is an earnest coming-of-age tale of Max, a 10-year-old girl dealing with change, sadness, and life lessons. The film uses chess to help Max come to terms with the issues she's facing, but the actual chess-playing time is minimal, and the story requires no previous knowledge of the game. The filmmakers attempt to use chess, the chessboard, and its pieces as metaphors for life. During the course of the movie, Max's beloved grandmother dies, but the scenes surrounding Max's loss are short and do not dwell on grief. What does emerge from the event are Max's reflections on the fragility and ephemeral nature of life as she's supported by a loving parent. There are a few insults ("crappy," "hell," "kick your butt," "diarrhea," "turd"). Affluent kids and their families are mostly portrayed as negative stereotypes; there is brief mean-girl bullying.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Max (Makenna Ballard) has a lot on her mind in A LITTLE GAME. Her caring parents (Ralph Macchio and Janeane Garofalo) are struggling to make ends meet so she can enroll in an expensive but esteemed New York City all-girl private school. And, although Max knows she's smart, independent, and capable, she's not quite sure she'll fit in. She's right; it's a challenge as the girls are less than welcoming. And when her beloved grandmother (Olympic Dukakis) unexpectedly passes away, Max is even less confident. A moment of mean-girl bullying at the new school's Chess Club finds Max asking for help from a very unlikely source: Norman (F. Murray Abraham), a senior curmudgeon and chess expert who hangs out in Washington Square Park. The two slowly form a bond, learning to trust one another. With Norman's sure hand guiding her and her dad's special understanding, Max finds out a lot about New York City, her place in it, and life itself -- and a little bit about chess.
Is it any good?
Writer-director Evan Oppenheimer has elicited some terrific performances, photographed New York City with style, and delivered a movie with appeal for older kids and tweens. The story deals with thoughts and situations with which most kids struggle during their formative middle-grade years. But there's nothing subtle here; the messages are straightforward, frequent, and predictable. F. Murray Abraham tries his best to create a memorable character out of one we've often seen before. Some of the metaphoric tasks Norman assigns to Max are real stretches, and the young girl would have to be clairvoyant to figure them out. Still, though there are ideas, situations, and scenes that may seem obvious to parents, they will be effective and engaging for young viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Max deals with her grief after her grandmother dies. Do you think her concerns about time, change, and losing loved ones feels real? What or who helps you when heavy things are on your mind?
The filmmakers use chess to provide lessons about life. Discuss other movies that use a sport, a passion, or an art as a technique for dealing with larger issues. Which of those films have had meaning for you? Do you have to participate in the activity involved to get the messages delivered? Why, or why not?
The movie uses the term "metaphor" many times. What is a metaphor? Create a simple metaphor that helps explain or clarify an idea or situation.
- In theaters: December 12, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2015
- Cast: Ralph Macchio, F. Murray Abraham, Makenna Ballard
- Director: Evan Oppenheimer
- Studio: Michael Mailer Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild language and thematic elemements
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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