Spellbound Review

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Eight American high school kids from different parts of the country compete for the 1999 National Spelling Bee — a nail-biting competition whose teen contestants train as rigorously as athletes.


Among the more unique aspects of Americana is the National Spelling Bee - an annual competition in which those who are no doubt picked last for basketball practice demonstrate their alternative talents by spelling words like 'Schadenfreude' and 'haemoglobin' live on television.

This documentary follows eight hopefuls from their home towns across the country to the national finals.

What emerges is a captivating picture of what it's like to be a teenager and 'different' in the USA. From the gawky farm boy whose parents sit on the porch bemused by their son's intelligence, to the daughter of Mexican immigrants whose father speaks no English at all, these kids are isolated by their 'smartness' and find some solace in the realisation that they're not alone.

There is the odd glitch: first-time documentarian Jeffrey Blitz follows too many kids in insufficient depth, and the structure of the film is disappointingly unimaginative. But, otherwise, this is a compelling, sometimes surprisingly emotionally-involving film.

A unique, fascinating look at an America we rarely see.