A Little Game

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
A Little Game Movie Poster Image
Earnest coming-of-age film uses chess as a metaphor.
  • PG
  • 2014
  • 91 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Many messages delivered clearly in dialogue: "Don't worry about the next game. Enjoy this one." "Make a choice and go on." "Don't let life happen to you. You happen to life." "If you make a mistake, admit it." "Think creatively. Be inspired." "Change isn't a bad thing. Often something has to close before something else can open." Throughout, the game of chess is used as a metaphor for life; the chess board is a metaphor for the city.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Max is thoughtful, reliable, smart, brave, and loving. She gains much wisdom as the story unfolds. Max's parents and a grandmother are concerned, responsible, trusting, and devoted. For the most part, private-school girls are portrayed as non-inclusive, unfriendly, and easily swayed by the spirit of the mean girl in their midst. The private-school parents are depicted as narrow-minded, snobbish, and smug. Set in New York City, there is ethnic diversity throughout.


Max's beloved grandmother dies, but the scenes surrounding Max's loss are short and do not dwell on grief. Brief mean-girl bullying.


Occasional coarse language: "crappy," "hell," "kick your butt," "diarrhea," "turd" (appears as subtitle).


Quiksilver, Corrado Bread and Pastry (NYC).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A mom and dad share a bottled beer.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byReviewerz July 3, 2016
Disappointing. I thought it would be about a bright girl who uses chess to deal with life, as the synopsis suggested. I have a bright child and thought it would... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old November 16, 2018

You should watch it!

It's a great movie because it's not too scary, and it could really happen in real life. The story encourages girls to take chances and be themselves.... Continue reading

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 deliveredWhy, 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.

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas and uplifting tales

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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