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8 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Spellbound (2003)
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by Jay Seaver

"Natural talent can only get you so far."
5 stars

One of the signs that Spellbound is a great documentary is that I have almost no desire to talk about it in terms of filmmaking; director Jeffrey Blitz has made a film so transparent that my interest in it comes almost entirely from the subject and the people involved.

That's a neat trick, considering that the first half consists largely of talking heads - kids and their friends, family, teachers, etc., talking directly to the camera about their participation in the national spelling bee and what it means for them. The second half is a well-edited presentation of the 2000 National Spelling Bee; where the eight subjects (and 241 other junior high-schoolers) compete and are eliminated until one is named champion.

I never did spelling bees in junior high; I don't even know if Greely Junior High participated in them. Math team was a similar type of event, though, and watching this movie reminded me of why I was only moderately successful there (one trip to a national meet in Jr. High, one in high school, both where I got my butt kicked) - it's hard work. Natural talent can only get you so far, and several of the top spellers we see here spend hours after school memorizing long lists of words and quizzing themselves on them. That sort of dedication is admirable, but in several cases it crowds everything else out. Many of the kids in this movie express relief when they finally reach the national bee and even when they're eliminated, because it's over, and no matter what their motivations were for getting into competitive spelling, they're going to have a lot more free time on their hands.

There are some things that caught my eye, though - a sequence where seven of the profiled kids are arriving in Washington, DC with their family, staying in hotels, all excited, while native Ashley White just climbs on the subway alone. The capital is a destination for the others, but a dreary place for her; I got the impression her goal was to put it behind her.

And I found myself wondering who suffers more - the kids who put pressure on themselves, or those who are pressured by parents, teachers, and others who feel that they have the kids' best interests at heart.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7496&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/03/04 19:28:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/15/16 Mike Hunt same as P. Ness 1 stars
3/24/15 P. Ness sucks ass 1 stars
7/26/12 Em Like watching paint dry. But worse. 1 stars
11/04/09 James Yours is the only negative review on rottentomatoes. You're obviously not very bright. 5 stars
7/03/09 Phil I thought it was ironic that you mispelled "rolled." 3 stars
1/11/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
3/28/08 Rachel I thought it would be so boring, but I was SO wrong!!! 5 stars
12/04/06 Kate The single most overrated movie I've ever seen. Insipid and incompetent 2 stars
11/15/06 David An edge-of-the-seat thriller! You'll be sweating it out with the spellers. 5 stars
11/07/06 Carol Baker not a top documentary and I've been watching plenty of them. 3 stars
10/30/06 Gladys This movie was awesome...I really enjoyed watching it. 5 stars
10/26/06 arlinda never in a million years did i think i would enjoy a movie about a spelling bee this much 5 stars
10/26/06 farse omar i love this movie. Blitz was right when he said at least making it to the competition is gd 5 stars
10/26/06 gerardo c really interesting and also amaizing, just cant believe how such young kids can have those 5 stars
5/28/06 millersxing doesn't leave much of an impression 3 stars
9/15/05 Monday Morning Totally real and absolutely wonderful. 5 stars
4/02/05 Charlene Javier B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T 5 stars
3/30/05 hannaho An entertaining look at this unique competition. 4 stars
1/21/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Real life and it's entertaining to boot. 5 stars
11/08/04 Taylor Fladgate A hidden jewel. A suspensful documentary...who would have thought? 5 stars
8/26/04 Bruce Smith Tedium. 30 minutes was more than enough for me. A school project, perhaps? 2 stars
7/28/04 Elizabeth Quite interesting, and Harry Altman was particularly memorable. 3 stars
3/25/04 bikehorn Who thought of this? Great movie! Kind of odd and tense at times! 5 stars
2/24/04 tony duke this movie sucked horribly and the director should be shot in the head 1 stars
9/30/03 clarance the cobra Great fucking movie 5 stars
8/25/03 Caitlin Hilarious! But I feel bad saying that because I'm not sure if it's supposed to be! 5 stars
8/12/03 J Herman More entertaining and dramatic than a hundred explosion laden summer "action blockbusters. 5 stars
8/04/03 ttiinnaa god damn this was a good documentary!!! I was glued to it the whole way 5 stars
7/14/03 Alice Rothe The best film in a long time 5 stars
6/30/03 Kathy Ramsey Reminded me of the Michael Apted "Up" docs, but I loved it anyway. 5 stars
6/16/03 GD Excellent 5 stars
6/11/03 Bill Begert riveting! 5 stars
6/07/03 J Boring 1 stars
5/17/03 Ian Barnard Nuanced, funny, well made, moving, and full of interesting social commentary. 5 stars
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  30-Apr-2003 (G)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2004



Directed by
  Jeffrey Blitz

Written by

  Harry Altman
  Angela Arenivar
  Ted Brigham
  April DeGideo
  Neil Kadakia
  Nupur Lala

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