Spellbound (2002)

spellbound poster 2002 movie documentary
9.0 Overall Score

Great group of kids, spelling is fun!

A bit all over the place with the telling of the story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Spellbound

Studio:  ThinkFilm

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  March 14, 2002 (South by Southwest)

MPAA Rating:  G


We will spell the hell out of words!

It is the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee and more competitive than many sports.  This documentary follows a group of children as they head to the nationals.  As the eight contestants rally for the top spot, we see their varied home lives and how they achieved their position, plus the intense ESPN competition to be the best in the land.

Directed by Jeffrey Blitz, Spellbound was very popular among critics and fans and is one of those rare documentaries which is quite successful even compared to scripted films.  It follows Emily Stagg, Ashley White, April DeGideo, Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Nupur Lala, and Ted Brigham and their families.  It won a number of awards and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2003 losing to Bowling for Columbine.


Interesting or obnoxious? You decide

The movie’s fun derives from the characters that these kids are and the families from which they sprung.  When you see how one family might have tons of advantages like Emily Stagg who was upset that her au pair couldn’t come with the family to DC (but that it would be a different and fun family trip instead) and private tutors for her spelling, another speller like Ashley White is having to due with teacher training after school.  Fortunately, though their parents may put a lot of pressure on them as Ted Brigham’s mother put it, they love them “irregardless”.


The one you want to see succeed the most

The movie is fun and extremely enjoyable, but it is kind of unbalanced.  A lot of the stuff was shot after the event and it is obvious that if the characters had won, they would have acted different.  It does a little flashback history of the Scripps Spelling Bee with the original winner Frank Neuhauser talking about his win in 1925 and other winners, but it would have been nice to expand the portion with the former winners and what it means to win.  It also attempts to manipulate the viewers with the introduction of George Thampy who was suppose to be a big contender (he did win in 2000).  I would have rather known him from the start or not known him at all…I know it was meant to build suspense, but it didn’t really work.

Spellbound is worth seeking out and definitely worth an update.  Online you can find out more about the kids and what has happening in the ten plus years since the documentary.  Some of the stories are sad and some are positive, but that is up to you to find out.  If you think you can win, just remember to how to spell logorrhea.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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