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flick pick | Spellbound 2002
Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Ted Brigham, April DeGideo , Neil Kadakia, Nupur Lala, Emily Stagg, Ashley White
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: feel-good, true?!?
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Every year, middle school kids across the country start memorizing words and competing in a decades-old tradition: the spelling bee. They start at the school level, then move on to the regional level if they're lucky -- and eventually, the select few gather in our country's capital to compete for the Howard-Scripps National Spelling Bee. Spellbound follows eight contestants on their path to Washington, D.C. Nupur from Tampa, eliminated in the third round of the previous year's Bee and diligently working to do better now, notes that in America, she has an advantage her Indian-born parents didn't growing up: the opportunity for a second chance to succeed. Another Bee veteran is well-to-do Emily from New Haven, who admits that she doesn't do it because she loves spelling, but because she wants to prove that she's the best; later we meet shy April from a working-class mill town in Pennsylvania, who credits her parents with nurturing her love of words. Then there's Neil in California, whose parents have analyzed past bee competitions to craft a rigorous training regimen, and has a whole village in India who've been paid by a relative to pray for his win (his sister insists he's the most well-rounded boy imaginable though). Not all the kids have the advantage of money or parents who spend every waking moment attending to their children's academic progress. In D.C., Ashley talks about overcoming her "trials and tribulations" while her single mother admits that the economy has made their situation hard. Angela in Texas, daughter of Mexican immigrants who speak no English, has her friends sign her word flashcards so that when she spells, she can imagine different people cheering her on. At the other end of the preparation spectrum is Ted in Missouri, a loner who walks into his regional bee without having ever heard of the Bee and finds himself heading to Washington. And then there's Harry, an oddball motor-mouth in New Jersey, who wins his regional spelling bee on the word "discotheque" largely because he's the only kid uncool enough to know what the word means. As the kids head to the National Spelling Bee, the competition is clearly fierce. Each has worked hard, but in the end, only one will walk away with the trophy.

Review We've all flipped by it on TV -- or maybe even participated it on some level as kids. And when we think back upon it as adults, it all seems so stupid. In this age of automatic spell-checking, being the best speller in the world seems like a pretty useless skill. I went into Spellbound expecting to be annoyed by these overly competitive kids and pushy parents obsessing over memorizing. Instead, I found myself loving just about every single one. There are rich kids and poor kids, kids who look like they're probably pretty popular at school, and ones who you can just tell get picked on interminably. But what they all share is that they're pretty damn smart -- and really, really dedicated. Watching Blitz's warm, very funny, and yes, totally thrilling documentary, it's clear that for these kids and their parents, spelling really isn't the point at all. It's about working hard to achieve something you want. Watching Spellbound, you start to believe that the spelling bee is as gloriously all-American a sport as baseball. As Neil's dad insists, if you work hard in this country, you'll make it. While it's an optimistic view, there's something quintessentially American about it -- this faith that any individual should be able to set a lofty goal, work diligently, and achieve success, regardless of social, economic or cultural background. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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