Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Spellbound

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Profanity:One very brief word
Nudity/Sex:None
Alcohol/Drugs:A parent possibly impaired by drugs or alcohol at one point
Violence/Scariness:Tense scenes of competition
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:2003

In honor of this week’s Scripps Spelling Bee finals, every family should see this m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s movie about the national spelling bee because it is about so much more. It is about the strength of American diversity and the commitment of this country to opportunity — the eight featured competitors include three children of immigrants (one’s father still speaks no English) and a wide range of ethnic and economic backgrounds. It is about ambition, dedication, and courage. It is about finding a dream that speaks to each individual. Most of all, it is about family — the opportunity to discuss the wide variation in styles of family communication and values is in itself a reason for every family with children to watch this movie together. Plus, it is one of the most genuinely thrilling, touching, and purely enjoyable movies of the year.

This is the true story of the 1999 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and especially of eight regional winners in the competition. They are: Ashley, a black girl who lives with her mother in a housing project in the city where the competition takes place, Harry, the youngest of the group, a slightly hyper kid who impulsively answers one interviewer’s question in the voice of a “musical robot,” April, whose fond but mildly befuddled parents cannot quite figure out how such a ragingly focused child appeared in their house, Angela, the daughter of an illegal Mexican immigrant who still speaks no English, Ted, a loner from Missouri, Neil, the son of Indian immigrants whose intense focus — including special spelling tutors and hours-long drills — has him the second member of the family to be a regional champion, Emily, the child of privilege, who wonders if she should bring her au pair along to the competition, and Nupur, another child of Indian immigrants, whose regional title is saluted by a sign on the local Hooters that reads, “Congradulations Nupur!”

These and 240 other contestants are all 8th grade and younger. They don’t quite understand what a heart-breakingly awkward and painful moment that is in their lives, but we do. As we watch these kids, girls towering over boys, more with braces than without, puberty’s uneven effects everywhere, many of the kids confessing that they feel all alone in their school, we see them hold on to this mastery of words eclipsing anything an adult can do as a lifeline, or maybe a flashlight, leading them to their adult selves. There were audible gasps in the theater as each new word was given to the contestants, including hellebore, terrene, logorrhea, kirtle, clavecin, heleoplankton, cabotinage, and opsimath. Half of those words are not even recognized by the spellchecker in my word processing program, but these kids, who learned how to read only a little more than half their lives ago, are able to handle an astonishing number of them. Meanwhile, some words recognizable to most college-educated adults turn out to be stumpers for the kids, sharply drawing the line between expertise and experience.

The movie is filled with brilliantly observed moments that illuminate the lives of the individuals but also the lives of all families and all dreamers. These kids, with their slightly old-fashioned area of expertise (this is the era of the spellchecker, after all, and as that list shows, these are not words likely to come up in conversation or even most college textbooks) have an engaging sense of adventure, affection, and wonder about words and language. One shows off her huge dictionary almost as big as she is and about to fall to pieces from use, and says she does not think she will ever part with it. Three boys talk about how they lost to Nupur. Ashley tells us she is a “prayer warrior” who feels like her life is a movie.

And we get to see every kind of family. All the parents assure their children that they are winners no matter what happens at the national bee, but some do so more convincingly than others. Each family has its own idea of what it means to achieve success and what they think success could mean for their future. One father hires special spelling tutors and runs constant drills. Others look on all but speechless at children whose talents seem as exotic to them as though they had sprouted feathers.

Parents should know that there are some tense and sad scenes. Children are upset when they lose (they are escorted onstage to a “comfort room”). One child uses a mildly bad word.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the families in the movie, especially the immigrant families and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, see the importance of the spelling bee. They should talk about what it takes to be a winner in any category of achievement and how they measure their own successes (and failures).

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Searching for Bobby Fischer, based on a real-life child who became a chess champion.



  • Chris

    Families who enjoy this movie will probably also enjoy Akeelah and the Bee.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    You are so right, Chris! A wonderful film.

  • Wendy

    Okay–this is the “big company that send DVDs in envelopes” DVD sitting on top of the entertainment center waiting to be watched because we both have really wanted to see it, but it arrived at a very busy time (This is how said company makes its money, I think). I’ll make it a goal to get it watched and sent back this week. Thanks for the nudge.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Great timing, Wendy! Let me know what you think.

  • Wendy

    What a thoroughly enjoyable film. I liked the way they picked specific stories to tell and how it just shows that each of these kids has his/her own story. We also listened to the DVD commentary which answered my big question of how they chose the contestants to follow. I was fascinated by the visit to Missouri which had originally been about a different boy altogether, but her lost early and suddenly they needed a new subject. Fascinating.

Previous Posts

Little Orphan Annie: From Comic Strip to Radio, Broadway, Television, and Two Movies
The spunky little girl with the curly red hair and a dog named Sandy began as Little Orphan Annie in 1924, created by Harold Gray.  Her pluck, self-sufficiency, and resilience cau

posted 8:00:48am Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

A Trailer for A Movie You'll Never See: Moonquake Lake with Mila Kunis and Rihanna
"Moonquake Lake" has a lot of star power behind it -- "LEGO Movie" directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and stars Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Rihanna. And it looks....intriguing, some sort of "Twilight"-style supernatural teen romance. It just isn't real. "Moonquake Lake" is a movie with

posted 3:54:43pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

New Additions to the National Film Registry: 2014
The Library of Congress has announced this year's additions to the National Film Registry. 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant titles are added each year, under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes

posted 12:34:12pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Black Reel Awards Nominations 2014
One of the great pleasures of this time of year is voting for so many of my favorite filmmakers as a part of the Black Reel Awards. Thanks, as ever, to Tim Gordon for allowing me to participate. I think it is fair to say we had more and better choices this year than we ever have before. Here are

posted 9:14:29am Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

A Hannukah Version of "Shake it Off!"
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/NoHp2Rq8sMI?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:41am Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.