[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0000UI2OG][/pullquote] Proving once again that fact can trump fiction even with a seemingly mundane subject, Oscar nominated Spellbound follows 8 children as they prepare for the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Qualifying for the bee starts with millions of school children entering regional competitions, around 250 of which qualify for the national contest held each year in Washington DC. The national contest is a two day affair which eventually results in a single winner being crowned the champion. Each child has only one strike – spell one word wrong at any stage of the regional or national competition and it is game over.
Each child featured is quite unique, albeit sharing the same high level of intellect as their peers. Whilst most are articulate and personable, characters such as Harry who gurns as he talks and rarely pauses for breath are what make this all the more interesting and it is not simply a case of sitting watching the smart kids show off their spelling prowess. With such an eclectic mix, it is hard not to be sucked into their stories and root for them to succeed, particularly those without such a privileged upbringing.
Without spoiling things too much, the film makers had clearly done their research well as the children they had selected to follow all make it to the national competition with most doing astoundingly well. Whilst it is probable that more children than the 8 children featured were shown, those 8 are dotted far and wide across America meaning that the logistics and cost of filming many more would have made it impossible. You have to admire film makers who select their subjects this well as without such good research, this could have ended as a bit of a damp squib if no-one made a deep run at the title.
The level of dedication that the kids demonstrate is simply mind boggling and with their (mostly) supportive parents, they cram in hour upon hour of dictionary study digesting not just the words themselves but learning the etymology so that should a tricky word arise, they have a good shot at spelling it correctly by using what they have learnt from other words hailing from the same origins. Indeed Spellbound out more than once during the climactic finale showing that it is not simply a memory contest but goes beyond simply digesting a list of words and trying to recall them.
After spending the first hour meeting the kids, the last 40 minutes of Spellbound covers the national bee itself which is genuinely tense as the spellers go up one by one and wait for the dreaded bell to chime if they have spelt their word incorrectly. For one talented youngster, there is no bell but will it be one of the kids we have been following on their journey to the biggest stage of all? It is worth watching to find out.