SPELLBOUND is a delightful documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee competition in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Scripps-Howard newspapers. It’s too bad that it didn’t win the Oscar® for Best Documentary this year instead of BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, because it is far superior to that propagandistic, fictitious movie.
SPELLBOUND focuses on eight young contestants from all over the United States, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Texas, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. itself. One of the children, Angela, comes from a Mexican immigrant family in Texas, a couple are from immigrant families from India, and the rest include a tall gangly boy named Ted from Missouri, a small, nerdy boy named Harry from New Jersey who cracks jokes and contorts his face while spelling words, a pessimistic speller from Pennsylvania named April, and a positive black girl named Ashley who’s being raised by a single mother in Washington. As the number of contestants dwindles down to a few, some of the eight must go up against one of the top five spellers from last year, an Indian boy named Georgie, who proclaims his faith in Jesus Christ and extols the virtues of hard work and honoring thy father and thy mother.
SPELLBOUND contains lots of humor, suspense and character. The positive interaction between the children and their parents almost makes the show, but the movie also has lots of interviews with the children and their siblings. The final third of the movie is an intense, exciting look at the tensions, joys, and disappointments that occur at every national spelling bee contest. Best of all, the winners are gracious, and the losers are able to put their losses behind them.
Although one of the parents briefly mentions his Hindu guru, SPELLBOUND contains positive references to God, the Ten Commandments and even Jesus Christ. Thus, while SPELLBOUND doesn’t endorse Christianity, it does seem to endorse a strong belief in God and a belief that God wants us to work hard at developing our God-given talents.
The main point of the movie, however, is the strong support these children receive from their involved parents. The parents work tirelessly to help their children do their best, but most of them seem resigned to the fact that only one of the contestants can win the final competition.
SPELLBOUND also is a celebration of the good that is America, the wonderful country where such great things can occur. “You don’t get any second chances in India the way you do in America,” notes Nupur, one of the Indian contestants who went to the spelling bee competition the previous year. You wouldn’t expect to come away with a beaming patriotic pride in the United States from a documentary about a spelling bee, but that’s exactly what may happen to you if you see this wonderful movie.
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(BB, PP, CC, Pa, FR, PC, D) Moral worldview with positive patriotic content about American society and strong references to Jesus Christ, God, and Christianity that, however, are neither endorsed nor rejected by the documentary filmmakers, plus some light references to Hinduism, including one man from India who mentions his spiritual guru while movie shows what looks to be a shrine of some kind, and some light political correctness about multiculturalism and diversity; no obscenities or profanities; no violence; no sex, no nudity; no alcohol use; some smoking; and, nothing else objectionable.