Spelling is, in its quaint and uniquely American way, the great equalizer--if you can spell, nothing else matters. By the same token, it is the only competition with absolutely no second chances--one misspelled word anywhere along the way, and you are gone. From Emily, hailing from the pampered suburbs of Connecticut, to Ashley, child of the projects in D.C.; from Ted, born of a poor farm family in Missouri, to Harry, the lovable spaz from New Jersey, all eight youngsters are drawn from the diversity of this country--with an assortment of anxious parents as well. It's a true cross-section of America rarely captured so well in film. Each of the children is given screen time enough to impress us, not just with their talent but with their personalities. In addition, a parade of interesting side characters--from the faithful teacher-mentor to past champions--flesh out the straightforward story of pressure and the razor-thin margin between triumph and failure. The timelessness of this tale and the skill and love evident in its making rank "Spellbound" as a classic.
As the finals wear on and contestants start to fall, the audience's hearts will be in their throats. The contest is intense and merciless, and we feel the pressure right alongside the parents. Expect a few tears shed at the emotionally cathartic finale. This is a documentary that will involve you, these are kids you will love, this is a picture of America at its most American. It's a powerful reminder that our future is in our children--and that the kids are all right. Directed by Jeff Blitz. Produced by Jeff Blitz, Sean Welch and Ronnie Eisen. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min