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8 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Spellbound (2003)
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by Laura Kyle

"G-O-O-D. Being positive or desirable in nature; not bad or poor."
4 stars

Never have I felt such anticipation for the correct spelling of a word. While director Jeffrey Blitz limply ties his documentary of the contestants at the National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. to the American dream, what is really intriguing about his subject material are the nerdy little kids who take the competition so seriously, forcing the audience members to follow suit.

All of the studious competitors are enduring that universal awkward stage of adolescence, which often includes braces and acne, but what distinguishes them from their peers, are their hard working brains. They have the kind of smarts that is sure to serve them in greater, though less televised, endeavors in the future.

But in this 1999 set film, their efforts are narrowed to essentially studying the dictionary hours and hours a day, all in preparation for a Spelling Bee. Understanding the mechanical aspects of the English language is not nearly enough; one must have broad knowledge of various languages. And while advancing in a Spelling Bee of such magnitude is impossible without intense training, there is a huge element of luck that looms over all the young teens; because in spite of everything, there are thousands upon thousands of distinct words in the English language, and a speller only needs to get one letter wrong of one word to completely exit the Bee.

Watching the determined spellers squint and tear up in their attempts to mentally analyze a word is oddly fascinating, and the glimpse into the young scholars' lives is an interesting one. There is not a lot of "filmmaking," per say, that is happening here, nothing too flashy or manipulative; Blitz merely observes the eight kids as they prepare to compete nationally, having already done so the year prior, interviewing them and their family members.

I expected the parents to be portrayed as the forceful type, vicariously living through the success of their children, but fortunately, that is not the story Blitz tells. The adults behind the scenes are simply supportive and in awe of what their flesh and blood is capable of.

I am not completely sure how Blitz pegged the eight spellers, out of the few hundred that competed, but he chose wisely, or eliminated wisely in the editing phase, because the characters that evolve in his documentary are definitely worth your while. There are a few second generation immigrants, quite a few of kids from rural towns, and the West and East coasts are represented as well. What is most amusing about them is their ability to cope with being big fish in a small pond, or rather -- borderline genius, and focused kids who are often socially isolated as a result. For many of the kids, the Spelling Bee is about more than just achievement, but fitting in.

Although I learned some new words while watching SPELLBOUND, I have never felt such inadequacy in my spelling abilities. But you don't have to be a big word fan obsessed with crossword puzzles and scrabble to appreciate SPELLBOUND; after all, it is just the past tense of "spellbind."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7496&reviewer=369
originally posted: 10/05/04 20:29:04
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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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