The name of the game here is Chess. Rico Rodriguez (Manny from Modern Family) plays the disconnected Texan son of Mexican heritage, Jose, in this family drama that deals with issues of bereavement and the challenges of being a single parent all thrown into the bag. Bullied at school Jose finds solace and escape from his mother (The always brilliant Justina Machado) in becoming a skillful chess player, taught by his Chess Guru Aunt (Ivonne Coll, who steals the film with her sensitive performance). Jose's talents are soon spotted by one of his more dedicated teachers, Mr Alvarado (Vote for Pedro!) who decides to build a chess team from all the kids who are regular in detention. Unsupported by the school who would rather see its cabinets filled with football trophies, he never the less persists and enters the team into local competitions. The family are soon torn asunder by a sudden bereavement and Jose feels more isolated from his mother than ever. Will Chess be the thing that brings them all together again and put the school of Brownsville on the map in the young people's chess tournament?
Films about Chess, do not always make for the most exciting of viewing, fortunately here it is used more as a tool in the story to explore other social issues facing our main characters. Brownsville is a multi racial Texan school with a large population of Mexicans. Deportations of illegals are common and often responsible for the breaking up of families and in Jose's case, part of his emotional support network. The film perhaps tries to cover a little too much but it succeeds admirably well in exploring this and other issues facing people in this situation today. What it lacks in dynamics it more than makes up for with the extremely talented young cast, many of whom are virtual unknowns and the film has a whole heap of heart. The kids in cast are all extremely good, so much credit must go to the Casting Director, for finding such a talented bunch. It's nicely shot and the more experienced older actors round out the cast well. Eventually through his persistence Jose finds redemption and his mother finds her son again, the journey of these characters makes for a heart warming story and informs you a little more about the plight of Mexican immigrants along the way. It did feel at times as if I was watching two films and not everything worked perhaps as well as intended, but I want to be clear that this was a well made film, well acted and directed and I would recommend it. If only all the worlds conflicts could be solved with a game of chess.