“Brookyln Castle” is a very effective, if somewhat one sided, look inside the American Public School system. It’s fun and lighthearted at times, but still serious enough to drive home the budget crisis facing American schools. I guarantee that by the end of this film you will get super mad at the next person on Facebook who talks about how poor people just need to “work harder.” Heck, I’m super mad at that person right now.
“Brooklyn Castle” follows a year in the lives of several middleschool students of the renowned IS138 chess club. We see how these students excel at chess tournaments of the highest level while their already faltering chess program faces debilitating budget cuts.
“Like I said, Ricardo, you have no faith.”- A twelve year old.
The greatest thing this film does is getting you to really empathize with the kids. Here and there they do talk to the teachers in charge of the chess program, but it’s the players themselves that really steal the show. Much has been said about the so called “apathy” of the millennial generation, but I would dare anyone to make that claim after seeing these kids stress for days about one wrong move they made in a friggin’ game of chess, all the while trying to plan out their futures at twelve years old. You just want to reach through the screen, shake them, and shout “It’s just CHESS! You shouldn’t be WORRYING about this stuff! You should be worried that there will never be a better show than “Mystic Knights Of Tir Na Nog!” (There won’t be.) That’s not to say it’s a serious, dour film, “Brooklyn Castle” overflows with enthusiasm and good humour, from almost all the principle characters. It’s just that all of the kids in the film are trying so hard, and when they work and work and still get their budget cut, you will want to do a pretty rad suplex on a wall-street executive.
A particularly wise choice of the film is to interweave the chess tournament narrative with personal stories from the school year. It’s a film about a chess club certainly, but it isn’t all about chess. We see PTA meetings, teacher conferences, and student elections, and we get a real sense of how these budget cuts will effect entire schools, not just one or two “expendable programs.” “Brooklyn Castle” lures you in with a classic underdog story of unfunded kids winning championship after championship, but uses this as bait to show the wide range of problems the average American public school faces.
“You can’t be depressed, you’re Pobo in a cowboy hat!”
If I had to narrow down a problem, I’d say it’s the argument is a little one-sided. I don’t think we ever really hear from a government official trying to justify the cuts, and if we do it isn’t very extensive. All we get are stock news footage clips. I don’t really think there is a way to justify this kind of reckless budget cutting, but you really have to at least give them a chance.
There’s also the fact that structurally, the movie meanders a bit. There never really seems to be a strong central plot that moves forward, like one specific tournament the kids are trying to win. “Brooklyn Castle” just kind of bounces from tournament to tournament until it just sort of ends, without a very satisfying resolution, good or bad. It can be hard to wrangle a well structured plot out of a non-fiction film, but I feel like they could have made more of an effort of driving a story forward, rather than just showing us a bunch of events.
“Brooklyn Castle” set out to make you care about America’s public schools, and in that regard it undoubtedly succeeds. Netflix it or buy it; you will get mad, you will get sad, and you will feel bad.