Friday, May 23, 2003

Spellbound (IMDB) (Netflix)
No, not the 1945 Hitchcock thriller with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, but a documentary about the national spelling bee. The film tracks eight kids and their families from their regional competitions to the nationals, complete with ESPN coverage.

This is a unique kind of "reality" TV; it's honest, for starters, and the tension is organic, not manufactured. We also see the best in people, particularly the kids. They're a fascinating and diverse group, ranging from the to-the-manor-born overachiever to a daughter of non-English-speaking Mexican immigrants to Harry, perhaps the geekiest kid you'd ever want to meet. It's also a thumbnail for upward mobility and meritocracy (you either spell "logorrhea" right or you don't, and you don't get special dispensation for being an Indian kid from Texas who gets the word "yenta"). Former spelling bee competitor Sara Schneider had hoped for more discussion of the cultural significance of this quintessentially American tradition, but I enjoyed its "we're in, we're out, nobody gets hurt" economy of style. A great little role model flick for that unmotivated sixth-grader.