I'm a little burned out on movie reviews, so I'll keep this one brief. I caught a good chunk of this year's National Spelling Bee on ESPN. And frankly, Spellbound didn't really give me anything new. There is neither narration nor narrative through the first half of the film, and the camera's attention at times wanders far from the subject. I wanted to know more about the kids themselves-- What they do when they're not studying? How are they treated by their peers? Why do they care about the Bee?-- and less about their families. Part two compresses the two-day event into less than an hour, letting us root for our favorite kids as they drop off one by one. But we never really get a sense of what it's like to be IN the Bee-- there's no behind-the-scenes coverage of kids between rounds, or how the word lists are chosen, or why the rules are the way they are. The most interesting questions go unasked.

If you're a stranger to the National Spelling Bee, Spellbound is worth your time. But if you've even been sucked into the Bee while channel surfing, Spellbound doesn't tell you anything you don't already know.


Such a harsh review for such a funny movie! Where is the mention of the all the humor? Like the kid with the Indian parents who nearly faints when he gets the word Darjeeling because he's never heard of it. Or the girl's mother who is so proud of the fact that she makes bad puns with the word "bee". I know you laughed - I was there. Or were you laughing at my dog?

I enjoyed the film, but was keenly disappointed that there wasn't more substance to it. I can watch the Bee itself on ESPN. The documentary needed to provide added value-- context, background, insight, history. It ignored some of that, made a feeble attempt at the rest, and generally came up short. I laughed, sure-- but I left feeling like the filmmakers had squandered their opportunity to explore this uniquely American phenomenon, the children who participate in it, and the society that gives it meaning.

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