Checkmate, the Chess Romantic Comedy
Screenplay by Alan Nafzger (146 pages)
Helene is single in Greenwich Village. Each time she wins a chess game, she meets a really handsome and eligible bachelor who is romantically interested in her. Conversely, when she loses a chess game she meets an obnoxious loser.
This screenplay is about Helene, a corporate drone in New York City who walks to work past the cities professional chess community. Near her Greenwich Village apartment, everyday she walks past a chess hobby shop. She works within eye-shot of Washington Square Park. Each day she looks out the window at the chess players hanging out in the South-West corner of the park and she learns that most of them play for money.
At the beginning of the film she is plan and single and not even dating anyone. She is very somber about her prospects. The city seems to be traveling at 100 MPH while she meanders along at 40 MPH. Helene is somewhat beaten down. She has never been successful at anything and she is humble. She begins the film as a quiet unassuming woman. She takes her lunch to the park and watches the chess games. She doesn’t know how to play but the people interest her.
One morning at work, she sees, through her office window, a curious player in the park. A woman is seated in the park and is playing a game of chess that looks for all the world like a celebrity sighting. The woman has 40 young men surrounding the table – chess players but handsome and it appears eligible.
Her work takes a back seat to a new interest in chess. She goes online and learns the rules. She begins to teach herself. For a long time, she only plays against her work computer. She buys a handheld chess computer on Amazon.com and plays at lunch. But she notices the magical realism aspect of the film – if she win’s her love life improves and if she loses she suffers a setback.
She plays the computer at the lowest level and loses more than a few times and is approached by undesirable suitors. After several attempts, she wins and within a few seconds she is approached by a mediocre suitor. She improves and increases the skill level of her computer opponent. Her night (dating) life improves as her victories vs. the computer accumulate. As she wins more games her looks and confidence improve. Chess delivers something of a metamorphosis. She eats in nicer and nicer restraints and dances later and later into the night.
With everything (romance and potential love) at stake, she becomes consumed with chess. She buys some books. She plays through some classic games. Finally, she joins a chess club, but doesn’t play. She becomes a fan of queenside strategies because she figures most of her opponents would know a lot more about kingside.
These thoughts give her much pleasure. But then she fall back into being what she really is, a mediocre player, because when she gets to a certain point in chess she realizes what a very long way she still has to go. Few take her serious in the chess community but it is clear that she is improving.
In the park, she is adopted by a Russian, a widower named Dr. Ovechkin. While he is nice to her and aggress to teach her. She sees he has a chess set in the park and asks him to play. Of course he checkmates her in a few moves. But they continue to play, he teaches her fundamentals, and it turns out that she’s a natural. The retired professor knows the level of the players in the park and matches her with a worthy opponent each day at lunch and then after work. Her sex life improves as her victories vs. humans accumulate.
Helene enjoys the transformation of a plain single woman, who is less than sexy, into strong and sexy chess player. This film is a story of female empowerment, of a woman asserting herself in her love life and in her job.
Where this all leads, I will leave for you to enjoy. The film has some sly fun with the way chess consumes Helene’s mind. In a bathroom stall, even toilet paper is folded into Origami chess pieces for her. The tile black and white squares makes a chess board. She plays a “magic marker” graffiti chess game against an unknown opponent in the elevator.
The main relationships in this film are between Helene, the other woman chess player and her various suitors. Will Helene be drawn into the buzz of suitor after suitor like the other woman who plays in the park, or will chess bring her one intense and life long love?
However, a secondary element of this is the way it handles the changing relationship between Helene and Dr. Ovechkin. The story is also about the way the minds of two players can become engaged, not in a romantic way, but in the pure contact of their thinking. There are often no words in the mind during a chess game. Just rules of spatial relationships. It can get pretty intimate.
The mystery in this film is a complicated question. Is Helene’s improved love life a result of magic or simply the product of her new found confidence.
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