Spellbound, a 2002 documentary about kids competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, is hands down one of the most entertaining movies ever made. You may not think a movie on this topic could ever be enjoyable but damn! Alternately hilarious, joyous, spellbinding (had to go there) and heartbreaking, the second half of the movie also becomes as riveting and suspenseful as The Fugitive or Die Hard.
Beautiful in its narrative simplicity, the first half of Spellbound introduces us to eight different teens. We meet each contestant, one after the other, in short vignettes. We find out about their families, their interests, their various quirks. Then all arrive at the National Spelling Bee and, given the wonderful emotional work done by the filmmakers in the first half, the spelling bee itself is an absolute nail biter. When I saw it in the theatre, people were audibly reacting in the second half as if it was the original screening of Rocky. As Ann Hornaday wrote in the Washington Post, “This just might be the most action-packed suspense thriller of the summer.”
Please don’t let the title of my post put you off. Spellbound is not an outwardly political movie. It truly is wildly entertaining and is one of my personal favorite movies of all time. (I’ve seen it many, many times, it is that much fun to watch.) Yet given everything that is currently going on in our country — and world — Spellbound, without trying to do so, has a subtle yet very powerful message, much more so than when it was released almost 15 years ago. Given the broad range of families depicted in the movie, Spellbound will make anyone who watches it, whatever their own background and political belief, proud to be an American. At the same time, it might challenge some beliefs on what exactly our nation of immigrants means.
For a few years, Spellbound was unfortunately difficult to find. It’s such a good movie and was so popular, at times even used copies on Amazon were going for over $50 dollars. While I still can’t find it streaming anywhere, a bunch of very cheap used copies have turned up on Amazon:
This is worth the few dollars the DVD copies cost! So stop what you are doing and watch this movie!