It’s a moment of breathtaking irony and suspense: In the audience at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, a proud East Indian father bows his head while onstage his son, who’s been tutored in French, German, and Latin, hesitates and asks for the derivation of "Darjeeling."
Spellbound, Jeffrey Blitz’s endearing, heartbreaking, deeply rewarding documentary about eight brainy middle-school kids competing with nearly 250 other spellers in front of the ESPN-watching world, is full of such unforgettable moments. Not just a documentary of a contest, Spellbound is a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of contestants of various regional and socioeconomic backgrounds whose only common bond is a facility with putting words together.
From Angela of Texas, the daughter of an illegal Mexican immigrant who doesn’t speak English, to Harry of Glen Ridge, NJ, with his gawky sense of humor and socially maladroit volubility, Spellbound brims with humanity and insight. Many of these kids are loners or outcasts, yet their shared passion brings them together, despite their rivalry.
The film is a tribute to old-fashioned virtues of hard work, education, competition — and good spelling in a spellchecker age (note misspelled signs congratulating local kids!).
Homeschoolers, watch for the late appearance of Georgie, a homeschooled prodigy from an Evangelical background who encourages his peers to "twust in Jesus" and "hono’ yoah pawents."
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.