The TIFF Bell Lightbox takes a step back to the low fi days of computer programming starting this weekend with the underwhelming “Computer Chess”. The surreal and subdued comedy strives to obtain the levels of classic Christopher Guest productions in its quirkiness of world building, but the question becomes is it witty and engaging enough to earn that comparison?
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Patrick Riester, Freddy Martinez, Myles Paige
Written and Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, Computer Chess transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future. Shot on one of the earliest analog video cameras, Computer Chess wittily evokes the early days of digital recording in its very visual texture.
Computer Chess is a very earnest and well thought out effort that is almost successful but ultimately falls just short. The biggest triumph of the film is in the look and style of the film as it screams early 80’s, the camera work and type of film used is in itself an immediate time capsule. The format apes early 80’s home made films mixed with a goofy faux documentary style that works pretty well. The script is meandering as it follows a few key figures around the hotel that the competition takes place in without getting too involved with any of them. Most of the situations are played out to awkward conclusions which lead to mixed results. The final sequence with Patrick Riester’s Bishton aims to be quirky but falls flat. Perhaps the most interesting characters and source of most of the laughs throughout the film, Myles Paige’s Michael Papageorge, gets the worst send off as his character finale is just a pointless mess.
While the script plays out to nothing, the performances are actually very convincing and smart. Wiley Wiggins hasn’t done much of note between his debut turn as Mitch Kramer in “Dazed and Confused”, but he is very solid here. Reister is very good as Bishton and Paige is excellent as Papageorge, his comedic timing is excellent. Robin Schwartz is the only female in the main cast, playing the only female programmer in the competition, and has some nice sequences acting alongside Reister. The set decoration and wardrobe choices also deserve kudos here as they lend a lot to the authentic feel of the project.
In the end Computer Chess is a fascinating experiment that proves that director Andrew Bujalski has a unique eye and flair for unique stories. The film is a honorable near miss that peters out as the film goes along but also puts Bujalski on the list of film makers to keep an eye on.
2 out of 5
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