WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
An Oscar-nominated documentary focusing on the 1999 National Spelling Bee, and more specifically, the lives of eight separate finalists, beginning from their small town roots, their family, upbringing and training, up until the actual finals in Washington D.C. Nerds rule!
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
How interesting can a documentary featuring a bunch of geeky kids studying and taking part in a National Spelling Bee be, right? According to this 95-minute documentary, a whole lot, with humor (a local Hooters restaurant congratulates one of their local spelling champs by posting a sign that reads “Congradulations”), drama (an Indian finalist's grandfather is paying 1000 people to pray for his grandchild), emotion (a Mexican father who can’t even speak English is proud of his daughter, no matter how she finishes and could die a happy man) and mucho suspense making it work. In fact, the film's final 30 minutes had me chomping at the bit, as each of the kids to whom we were carefully introduced in the film’s first 45 minutes, stepped up to the microphone and was asked to spell ridiculously impossible words. The nutty part is that most of these 10-12 year old kids nail the words perfectly, but not before you see their brains a’racking, their thoughts a’racing and their parents shitting bricks in the crowd.
Surprisingly, this documentary didn’t focus on the more stereotypical pushy parents, but instead, showcased a wider variety of kids in both background, culture and upbringing, all of whom had at least one thing in common: smarts. Ironically, some of their parents came off a little goofy on camera, some even mispronouncing words and the like, but at the end of the day, the sense of love, respect and pride came through in most camps, as well as the greater focus on believing in oneself, and not just finishing in first place (it’s not how you finish, kids…it’s how you play the game) This was a documentary that I truly enjoyed because it focused on a small world that exists about which I knew next to nothing, but thanks to this film, I now know a little more. It also infused in it, many of the elements required in an entertaining motion picture, as well as many resonating human attributes and the sweet element of surprise (I had no idea who was going to win, but had money riding on the Indian dude). Watch it without your kids and pretend that one of the smarter kids on screen is your own. Just kidding…it’s actually a great film to watch with the young ones, if only to teach them about the value of discipline, family and love, early on in life. PS: I also learned how to spell a bunch of really long and unusable words like “cephallalgia” .
An audio commentary track is the first part of this disc’s extras section, featuring the director, the producer and the editor. It’s an ongoing track that allows each of them to really go into details about how they came up with the idea for the documentary, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes extras about each of the kids and their family. A great additional listen. A text based feature called “Spellers” provides you with the name, picture and small bio of each of the eight participants in the documentary, as well as quick way to bounce on over to the “Where Are They Now?” feature, which is a little more text on each teenager, with updated pictures and life circumstances. Other than the fact that most of them seem to have turned out pretty cool and Emily Stagg, specifically, is one major hottie (smart and beautiful…call me!), this is a great addition to the dvd, that provides you with an even greater sense of closure on all of the kids.
There’s also about 25 minutes of additional footage which focuses on three additional finalist kids, from their small town training grounds to the actual competition (Bradley’s tutor is hot!) All three are just as interesting as any of the other kids in the film, and one of them even went on to win some big dough on TV’s “Jeopardy”. By the way, is it me or did every single one of the Spelling Bee finalists come from dinky small towns? No big city players, eh? The extras are completed by the film’s very catchy trailer, as well as some information “About the Filmmakers” and two DVD-ROM features called “Interactive Hangman Game” and “Educational Guide”. We also get two documentary trailers, one for WINGED MIGRATION and the other for ENDURANCE.
An all-around entertaining documentary that deals with a mostly unknown subject matter (at least to me), eight different interesting characters, a surprising amount of drama, as well as an obvious competitive spirit. The extras were also solid enough to complement the documentary, especially the audio commentary and the “Where Are They Now?” feature, which offered a great sense of closure. Check it out and feel really dumb.