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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.87%
Average: 19.28%
Pretty Bad: 2.41%
Total Crap: 6.02%

8 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Spellbound (2003)
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by Brian McKay

3 stars

Considering all the glowing praise this little documentary has gotten, it seemed worthy of inclusion in the NetFlix queue. The notion of an hour and a half foray into the world of National Spelling Bees didn't sound like a terribly exciting premise - but hey, everyone loved this movie, so they must know something I don't. Or maybe I know something they don't - spelling bees are fucking dull.

The premise of Spellbound is simple - it follows the lives of 8 kids, of varying ethnic and economic backgrounds, and tracks their progress as they win local and regional spelling bees and head for the nationals. We are introduced to each kid and their families, lingering with each one just long enough to get a feel for what their background and home life is like. Once the key players are all introduced, the documentary progresses to the supposedly nail-biting national finals. Certainly nail-biting for the kids involved, and their often overbearing parents who are rah-rahing on the sidelines, but hardly the stuff of engaging human drama.

Although some of the kids have interesting insights, and there are a few emotional moments as they struggle with tough words or face the fact that they've just been eliminated, most of it is a plodding and dishwater dull exercise in "say word, repeat word, ask for definition, ask for language of origin, spell word, pray to God you're right." Some of the kids are likable, giving us a slight emotional investment, but others (and their parents) are so annoying that it had me praying for early elimination just so I wouldn't have to listen to their prattle. And while there is a bit of fun to be had with trying to guess the word's spelling along with the contestants, there's only so much mileage that can be wrung out of that little side activity. One of the words that came up in the competition was hellebore (a genus of poisonous plant native to Eurasia) - which was ironic, because it was exactly at that point that I realized I was hella bored with this film.

The bottom line is that SPELLBOUND is a fluff piece, focusing on a topic that is neither particularly weighty or dramatic or even interesting. And while I was occasionally happy for the kids when they were able to pull some very tough words out of the air, I was far happier when the end credits finally roled.

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originally posted: 05/31/04 13:38:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/16/16 Mike Hunt same as P. Ness 1 stars
3/25/15 P. Ness sucks ass 1 stars
7/26/12 Em Like watching paint dry. But worse. 1 stars
11/05/09 James Yours is the only negative review on rottentomatoes. You're obviously not very bright. 5 stars
7/04/09 Phil I thought it was ironic that you mispelled "rolled." 3 stars
1/12/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
3/29/08 Rachel I thought it would be so boring, but I was SO wrong!!! 5 stars
12/05/06 Kate The single most overrated movie I've ever seen. Insipid and incompetent 2 stars
11/16/06 David An edge-of-the-seat thriller! You'll be sweating it out with the spellers. 5 stars
11/08/06 Carol Baker not a top documentary and I've been watching plenty of them. 3 stars
10/31/06 Gladys This movie was awesome...I really enjoyed watching it. 5 stars
10/27/06 arlinda never in a million years did i think i would enjoy a movie about a spelling bee this much 5 stars
10/26/06 farse omar i love this movie. Blitz was right when he said at least making it to the competition is gd 5 stars
10/26/06 gerardo c really interesting and also amaizing, just cant believe how such young kids can have those 5 stars
5/28/06 millersxing doesn't leave much of an impression 3 stars
9/16/05 Monday Morning Totally real and absolutely wonderful. 5 stars
4/03/05 Charlene Javier B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T 5 stars
3/31/05 hannaho An entertaining look at this unique competition. 4 stars
1/22/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Real life and it's entertaining to boot. 5 stars
11/09/04 Taylor Fladgate A hidden jewel. A suspensful documentary...who would have thought? 5 stars
8/27/04 Bruce Smith Tedium. 30 minutes was more than enough for me. A school project, perhaps? 2 stars
7/28/04 Elizabeth Quite interesting, and Harry Altman was particularly memorable. 3 stars
3/26/04 bikehorn Who thought of this? Great movie! Kind of odd and tense at times! 5 stars
2/25/04 tony duke this movie sucked horribly and the director should be shot in the head 1 stars
9/30/03 clarance the cobra Great fucking movie 5 stars
8/26/03 Caitlin Hilarious! But I feel bad saying that because I'm not sure if it's supposed to be! 5 stars
8/12/03 J Herman More entertaining and dramatic than a hundred explosion laden summer "action blockbusters. 5 stars
8/05/03 ttiinnaa god damn this was a good documentary!!! I was glued to it the whole way 5 stars
7/15/03 Alice Rothe The best film in a long time 5 stars
7/01/03 Kathy Ramsey Reminded me of the Michael Apted "Up" docs, but I loved it anyway. 5 stars
6/17/03 GD Excellent 5 stars
6/12/03 Bill Begert riveting! 5 stars
6/08/03 J Boring 1 stars
5/18/03 Ian Barnard Nuanced, funny, well made, moving, and full of interesting social commentary. 5 stars
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  30-Apr-2003 (G)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2004



Directed by
  Jeffrey Blitz

Written by

  Harry Altman
  Angela Arenivar
  Ted Brigham
  April DeGideo
  Neil Kadakia
  Nupur Lala

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