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March 15, 2004 | by  | in Film |
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Who would have thought a film about spelling could be so very good? I didn’t. In fact, waiting for the film to start I was expecting to be bored. How could it be interesting? It’s spelling! They are just kids! However, before I could even consciously say goodbye to my cynicism, Spellbound had me under its magic. It’s not just a film about spelling – Spellbound is also a complex and absorbing slice of American life. By giving us characters that we care for, we are genuinely drawn into the competition and acquire an interest you never would have thought possible.

Spellbound follows eight different kids, from a wide range of backgrounds, in the lead-up to the competition. These kids take us inside a culture of intelligence and excellence – with each of the eight kids driven and moulded towards success by different factors.

This provides the film with its most poignant moments: the driven Indian families set on success, the dim-witted father marvelling at his kid’s intelligence, the young African-American girl’s dream that success will translate into a college scholarship – all lend a poignant weight to the competition. With the pressures of parents, income, culture and location on their back, we are willing these kids to success. As farm-hick Ted remarks to the camera, “It’s hard to make friends when no-one can understand what you can”. Spellbound inspires the viewer to look behind what we would call ‘geekiness’ to the motivations of those whom we often alienate for their insatiable drive.

The competition itself is intense and gruelling; one by one the kids fall by the wayside. Could you spell ‘cephalalgia’? Me neither. The heartache comes across as the kids manage their emotions bravely in the face of defeat (often better than the parents in the crowd!). I was getting tense as I willed my personal favourite towards victory. She only came sixth – but hey, I was proud.

Spellbound is an exciting, tense and absorbing movie, thrilling the audience at the same time as amazing us – making us laugh, minutes after making us cry. How many kids you know spell like this? Not one, damn it!

Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Rialto, Penthouse Cinemas

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About the Author ()

James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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