A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 movie about the early years of chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin. It's based on a book written by Waitzkin's father. Around the chess tables of a city park, a young boy sees a drug deal, joint smoking, drinking, and cigarette smoking. Profanity includes "Jesus," "hell," damn," and "ass." At the core of this story is a valuable lesson about sportsmanship. Josh emerges as a positive example of good sportsmanship even as so many adults around him don't. The movie also teaches valuable lessons on the importance of parents encouraging and cultivating their child's natural gifts and interests without overwhelming them or forgetting to let their kids be kids. Younger kids will enjoy seeing someone their own age intelligently portrayed, even if they don't quite grasp his particular gift or the situations it places him in. For older kids, this is one of the greatest movies around for demonstrating -- without preaching -- the value of decency and the payoff that comes from serious study.
What's the story?
Based on a true story, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER centers on young chess prodigy Josh. While chess tutor Bruce (Ben Kingsley) helps the boy hone his skills for competition, Josh's parents (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen) are strong and supportive. Mom tells him, "You have a good heart. And that's the most important thing in the world." Josh struggles with slipping into arrogance over his amazing talents, and he heads to a major competition intent on proving he's the best. But in the end, he learns that winning isn't everything.
Is it any good?
It takes confidence and loads of talent to make a movie about a boy who plays chess, and to make it riveting, but Steven Zaillian's directorial debut does just that. There are no clenched fists here, hardly a raised voice, and yet the movie is mesmerizing. There's a true sense of wonder in the scenes of Josh watching the chess players in the park, absorbing the intricacies of the game. That wonder is potent enough to spark an interest in young viewers, and encourage adults to take the board down from that dusty closet shelf. But an understanding of chess isn't vital to appreciating the movie, although a vague understanding does heighten the drama.
The characters, even the sideliners, are compelling, and a good streak of humor runs through the movie, especially in competition scenes when the nervous chess parents act less mature than their children.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what good sportsmanship means. How is good and bad sportsmanship shown during the movie? What role do parents play as role models?
How does this movie address the theme of parents finding the room to cultivate and encourage their child's abundant gifts while also giving them the time and space to still be kids?
While Bobby Fischer is shown to be an icon of chess in much the same way as Michael Jordan is to basketball, he is also shown to be rude, temperamental, misanthropic, and someone who disappeared rather than defend his chess championship. In later years, living abroad and mostly hiding out from the public eye, Fischer often made vicious anti-Semitic remarks in the rare interviews he gave, in addition to anti-American remarks immediately after 9/11. Who are some other examples of geniuses in their fields who also had extreme dark sides to their personalities? How is the theme of "the troubled genius" addressed in the movie?
- In theaters: June 24, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: June 24, 2002
- Cast: Ben Kingsley, Joe Mantegna, Laurence Fishburne
- Director: Steven Zaillian
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great boy role models, Misfits and underdogs
- Character strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material
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