The following is a true story: in 6th grade, after months and months of challenging spelling tests where I correctly spelled words like “misanthropic” and “gastrointestinal”, I was eliminated in the first round my school’s spelling bee when I failed to spell “macaroni” correctly. Macaroni! Recognizing the gravity, the shock, the humiliation of my situation, my classmates didn’t even tease me. It was then that I learned that there is something inherently dramatic about the spelling bee, something touching and terrifying about the way that we allow children to place their faith in their own intellect on a stage where tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people can sit and watch them unequivocally fail.
The filmmakers behind Spellbound recognized this drama, and this film (which is perhaps one of the more accessible documentaries I’ve seen) follows eight teenagers as they sail past words like “macaroni” and “encephalon” to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The stakes are higher, the words are harder, and the teenagers are earnest and lovable. At times (many times) humorous, at times tragic, this film is a testament to the power of a young person’s dedication. Check it out, watch it, and then contemplate all the ways you’d be a better Scrabble player if you only knew how to spell better.