An American expat in France (Kline, reversing his role from French Kiss) comes out of his grumpy, reclusive-widower shell by helping a discontented cleaning lady, Hlne (Bonnaire), reconnect with life via the game of chess. Coached in the ways of rooks and knights---a passion sparked by the sight of a radiant beauty (a cameoing Jennifer Beals) confidently playing against her lover---Hlne exhibits surprising aptitude at this pastime; it's a development that predictably irritates her unsophisticated shipyard-worker husband (Renaud).
Set in sumptuous Corsica and scored to elegant piano, writer-director Caroline Bottaro's romantic comedy works the contours of its hoary female-empowerment tale, complete with a gossiping hairdresser, a bitter teen daughter and oft-discussed chess tactics that bluntly describe Hlne's internal awakening. Queen to Play does slightly buck convention by depicting intellectual development (rather than lovey-dovey triumph) as the key to reshaping identity, as well as a form of class advancement and spiritual enlightenment. Such notions, however, are drowned out by deafeningly creaky conventions of cutesy self-discovery---notably a major character's ominous coughing and a finale that neuters any socio-emotional thorniness of Hlne's reinvention with unearned fairy-tale tidiness.
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