Spellbound Jeffrey Blitz

Spellbound Jeffrey Blitz
Hollywood hacks should take note of it; film professors should teach it; and any fan of gripping, intense, white-knuckle drama has to see it. Forget Michael Bay, to hell with special effects, the most thrilling viewing of the year comes from watching eight kids, aged ten to 13, spell. Before you can say "B-O-R-I-N-G," just check the variety, the intensity and the diversity of the eight young people — some disciplined, some naturally gifted, some enjoying the advantages of wealth, others merely living their parents' dreams — that make up Spellbound. At its root, the kids are Spellbound. Spellbound is Angela, daughter of immigrant Mexican cattle ranchers; it's peppy Ashley, whose single mom garbles the English language while daughter sits by reading the dictionary; it's Harry, a hyperactive funny kid who mutters to himself at the microphone; it's Nupur and Ted, Emily and Neil and April. It's the moment, at the National Spelling Bee (broadcast on ESPN), when a girl violently flinches at the word she's given; it's the word lists and drills and studying and hopes of smart kids to compete at a national competition that doesn't involve a ball of any kind. But Spellbound is also America. It's the strange obsession with competition, sure, but it's also a visceral manifestation of a land of opportunity. Several of Spellbound's subjects come from immigrant families; this is a chance for new American families to succeed. Spellbound doesn't go too far down that route; its goal is not to decipher the role of the spelling bee in the American psyche. Those conclusions spring naturally from the journey taken by these eight kids, who are all amongst the 250 or so spellers (out of nine million bee entrants) who make up the National Bee. In terms of DVD extras, too many are text-based, including "where are they now?" updates on all the spellers (now in their late teens), and interactive spelling games. The two most interesting features are the profiles of three spellers (including one precocious nine-year-old) whose stories didn't make the final cut, and a commentary by the producer, director, editor and sound mixer, which provides a whole other behind-the-scenes story for this film. There's no other way to put it. Spellbound is s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r. (Th!nkFilm/Columbia)