This feel-good documentary about kids competing in the National Spelling Bee
held annually in Washington, D.C. has two levels of appeal. On the one hand
it offers glimpses into the lives of eight preadolescents as they train for
a spelling competition with the drive and dedication of Olympic athletes.
The mere concept is rather crazy (in an "only in America!" kind of way) and
makes for an inherently amusing documentary theme.
On the other hand, the film is more than a story about kids for whom the
dictionary is a bible of sorts. It's an exploration of American life and all
its layers of economic, ethnic, religious, and cultural disparity. Each kid
has different motivations and these in turn are the product of varied
backgrounds and influences. As the film progresses towards its climax (the
championship bee), there is no way to predict who'll take home the trophy.
This is where a truth about American society emerges: at its core, it is
very homogeneous. There are ideals that, for better or for worse, transcend
individual differences, whether they be the emphasis placed on living up to
one's potential, the sharing of common goals, or the value of being
competitive while still empathising with one's opponents.
But if you're not too interested in the film's sociological
underpinnings, keep in mind that Spellbound doesn't try to sell a message
the way political documentaries do; its chief aim is to entertain, which it
does. So come out and watch it - you're sure to find yourself silently rooting
for a particular speller!
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