Directed By: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Angela Arenivar, Nupur Lala, Ted Brigham
Tag line: "Everyone Wants the Last Word"
Trivia: This film was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary
Who would have thought that following a group of ultra-bright adolescents preparing for the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., would be both exciting and entertaining? I sure didn’t. But “exciting and entertaining” only begins to describe this movie, which also explores a wide range of emotions, all flowing from the film’s young spellers.
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz, Spellbound manages to breathe life into its subject, doing so by focusing on eight kids, some rich, some poor, but all very intelligent, as they prepare for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, a competition held annually in Washington, D.C. Among the eight are Angela Arenivar of Texas, the daughter of a farm laborer who doesn’t speak a word of English; April DeGideo, a girl from Ambler, Pennsylvania, who, despite her talents, seems unsure of herself; and Harry Altman, an energetic youngster from New York who clearly isn’t the least bit camera shy (at one point, he tries to impersonate a robot). We spend the first half of Spellbound meeting the eight contestants, and observing them as they practice for the big day. Then it’s off to Washington, where we sit in on the competition and watch as, one by one, the field of several hundred is whittled down to a select few, who continue to battle it out, spelling words I’ve never heard before, until, finally, a winner is crowned.
Spellbound was definitely a revelation for me. Not only do we learn how intense the National Spelling Bee is, but also the drama associated with it, which director Blitz was able to generate simply by focusing on the faces of these kids. We sense the tension as they stand in front of that microphone, struggling to spell their word, then waiting for the judges to determine their fate. It’s an experience I can pretty much guarantee will have you biting your nails in nervous anticipation.
So, for those who roll their eyes at the thought of sitting through a film about the National Spelling Bee, I implore you to give Spellbound a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I know I was.