10-year old Max (Makenna Ballard) is having a tough go at life. She is being snubbed at her new school and her beloved grandmother has recently passed. Needless to say, these events have put Max in a weird place. Her life takes a turn for the better, however, when she befriends and finds an unlikely mentor in Norman (F. Murray Abraham), a cantankerous chess master, who teaches Max how to embrace the curves that life throws at her.
‘A Little Game’ is a simplistic and overly moralistic film. It hints at deeper meanings, especially through its chess related metaphors, but much of the time these meanings are unclear, if not non-sensical. The overall idea that chess is a direct metaphor for life is easily enough received, but this is a trope that has popped up many places before. Director Evan Oppenheimer is perhaps a bit too heavy-handed in his attempts to get a message across. Characters too often sound like inspirational quote machines rather than real people living their lives.
The idea of the cranky old outcast that turns out to have a heart of gold is a fairly used up stereotype. F. Murray Abraham plays the role well, but is unable to do much to make the character feel unique. Much of the film similarly feels like it just doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself.
Younger viewers (read: children) are definitely the target audience for this film, as they are the most likely to not cringe at the often hyperbolic moralizing spewing from the characters. ‘A Little Game’ is not a bad film; it is just not any better than any of the many similar films that have come before it.