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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Directed by Steve Zaillian
Paramount Home Video 08/93 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Seven-year-old Josh (Max Pomeranc) watches a speed chess game in New York City's Washington Square Park near his home. Soon he is hooked on the game made famous in America by champion Bobby Fischer. When his father (Joe Mantegna) realizes that his son is a natural, he decides to get him a teacher and join the competition circuit. Soon Josh is dividing his time between lessons with Mr. Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), a stern chess master, and games in the park with his playful friend Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne).
Searching For Bobby Fischer is one of those true-to-life films where nothing much seems to happen yet almost imperceptibly lives are changed, values are tested, and a soul is forged. Written and directed by Steve Zaillian, this engaging drama offers a behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating world of chess tournaments, the parents' emotional investments in winning, and the wide-spread yearning within the chess community for a prodigy to appear on the scene with the genius, flair, and obsessiveness of Bobby Fischer.
Josh wins trophy after trophy until he meets a contender who shows every sign of being invincible. He tells his father, "Maybe it's better not to be the best. Then you can lose and it's ok." After losing a crucial match, Josh falls into a slump. He realizes that he doesn't have the killer instinct Mr. Pandolfini advocates. Nor does he want to spend every single moment of his life on chess as his father expects. Supported by his mother (Joan Allen), Josh refuses to sideline the sensitive and compassionate side of his soul. By the time, he heads off to the national chess championship in Chicago, he has found his center and is buoyed by the respect of his teacher, the good will of his friend, and the loving support of his parents.
Searching for Bobby Fischer was one of the best films of 1993. As he did in the screenplay for Awakenings, Steve Zaillian examines those precious values that make life worth living. Josh, as his mother observes, has a good heart, and giving it room to act is just as important as winning in chess. In the closing scenes of the film, Josh makes the right move by being true to himself balancing his masculine need for mastery and his feminine feeling side.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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A discussion guide by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat is available for this movie. See the Values & Visions Guide.