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February 18, 2004


Or, "Orthography Dreams." Spellbound (IMDB) is a thrilling documentary that follows eight middle-school age students as they prepare for the national spelling bee held yearly in Washington, DC (please note: while writing this entry, I'm feeling entirely too self-conscious about my spelling skills).

The film opens by interviewing eight candidates from diverse backgrounds, and like Jenny, I found myself identifying with several of the kids' neuroses and habits. As the film's suspense mounted, I also found myself choosing a "favorite" kid, while rooting against others. The film clearly positions you to root for an African-American girl from Washington, DC, but reactions to other kids seem to be based more on individual tastes. Like Jenny's brothers (scroll down to her comments), I found the "spastic kid from Jersey" really annoying, but beyond that, I thought the kids were generally charming and quirky in the best possible ways.

I think that what I found most interesting was how the film actually created a "villain," a kid who had finished second the year before and was competing again. Even though several of the kids whose stories we followed were repeat competitors, the fact that this kid came in near the end of the film led me to perceive him as the "bad guy," threatening to spoil my happy ending. I also found the reaction shots of the parents (who were generally portrayed as supportive) to be interesting, especially given the ways in which the film plays on the viewer's emotions.

I don't want to spoil the suspense for people who haven't yet seen the film. That's certainly part of the fun. I did, however, appreciate that one competitor managed to advance to a later round after successfully spelling the word, "Palimpsest."

Mild spoiler below:

I did find it strange when the director chose to cut away from the spelling champion just before she spelled the winning word. Instead of watching her win first-hand, we see her commenting in retrospect about winning before the film cuts back to her successfully spelling the winning word. I almost threw the remote. Did other people have this reaction?

Posted by chuck at February 18, 2004 1:06 AM

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