Brooklyn Castle: The Agonies and Ecstasies of the Nation's Top Junior High Chess Team

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Directed by Katie Dellamaggiore. 101 minutes. Rated PG.

He's glimpsed only briefly in Brooklyn Castle, Katie Dellamaggiore's magnanimous look into the agonies and ecstasies of the country's top-rated junior high chess team, but the specter of Bobby Fischer underlines a central point: Why not Brooklyn? At Midwood's I.S. 318, where up is down, and the geeks have inherited the earth, Dellamaggiore follows several kids — including a garrulous junior politician, a sober prodigy, a spiky upstart, and an ambivalent girls' champ (play is segregated for unspecified reasons) — as they prepare to uphold the school's reputation. Like most kid competition docs, Brooklyn Castle explores the question of how and why certain kids succeed. A focus on the school's dedicated teachers and administrators and the endangered funding they depend upon offers two strong suggestions. We also gain a keen sense of how chess in particular helps otherwise academically challenged kids find a way into their own brains. And yet a premium on a more conventional form of success emerges; struggling families mean pressure to lock into a high-earning career track. In the meantime, there is always the next game and its lessons; it seems both natural and a little sad that most of these kids smile only with a trophy in their hands.

 
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