Spellbound | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Spellbound 

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More than six million kids participate in spelling bees across the country, but only about 250 make the national, held yearly in Washington, D.C. For the contestants and their families the experience is at once intimidating and exhilarating, a character-building test of memory, intelligence, and resilience. This documentary by first-time director Jeff Blitz profiles eight competitors who conveniently make up an ethnic and socioeconomic cross section of society--some have parents who aren't native English speakers; one's father can afford to hire a battalion of language coaches. Blitz shows us these kids in all their quirkiness and dorkiness, letting them do much of the talking as he records them and their families at home. He then follows them to their regional matches and to the national. Never condescending and often gripping, this is an ingenious look at an American rite. 97 min. Landmark's Century Centre.

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