"Everyone wants the last word"
A documentary about spelling bees and the quest of eight kids to win the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. They are among the 249 young hopefuls who flocked to Washington D.C. to vie for the chance to be the national spelling champion. They had spelled their way to local, then regional, champion status, and from there they moved on to the big time. The one who wins the Scripps Howard is a celebrated child indeed, in all the papers and interviewed on radio and TV.
The kids in this movie are a perfect microcosm of modern America. There's Angela, whose parents had come as illegal immigrants from Mexico, and whose father still doesn't really speak English but believes he did the right thing by coming to America and working as a ranch hand in order to provide his kids with opportunities. April spends all her free time studying words, and her father, who works at a local pub, hopes his daughter will be the success he never was. Ashley, a black inner city girl whose single mother is torn between pride in her daughter's spelling prowess and desire for the $10,000 prize money, gets through the competitions with prayers. New England's Emily has riding lessons and sings a capella but revels in spelling because here she's better than her peers. Harry is a hyperactive chatterbox who can't sit still and steals the show with his mugging for the camera. Neil's parents came from India and found America the land of opportunity; his father drills him constantly on words spelled by former champions while his mother teaches him meditation. Nupur, knocked out in the third round the year before, returns determined to win. Intelligent Ted lives in a trailer and finds himself ostracized by the kids at school because he is so much more intelligent than them. These kids are smart, kind of geeky, but determined, each bringing their own hopes and dreams, as well as those of their parents, to this pressure-filled event.
The story of these bright young things striving for what only one can have is very suspenseful, and you'll be amazed at what they can spell. I am good with words, but these kids were able to master many I have never heard of. And when it comes down to the final round, with only two kids remaining, I found myself on the edge of my seat, wondering who would triumph.
An interesting sidenote that it isn't mentioned in the movie, the three finalists were all home schooled. What the film does show is misspelled signs cheering on the spellers: "Congradul'ns", reads one; "Go chapm", says another. Both are troubling comments on the American education system, I think.
This was the first feature film of director Jeff Blitz, and received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary in 2002.
The movie's website is at http://www.spellboundmovie.com