FROM AN EARLY AGE, I WAS ENTHRALLED with the written word. I was one of those kids who was a regular at our public library. Where most people would check out one to 4 books at a time, my usual batch of books totaled eight to twelve. However, during the summer months, I was known to check out 20 books at time, using a wagon to transport them home. One of my babysitters was an avid reader who started teaching me words that I was not being taught in school. Taking out the lettered tiles from a boxed game, we would turn all of them face down then mix them up. Next, we would split the tiles between us and turn them face up. The object of this made-up game was to create as many words as you could with the tiles picked. Obviously, she could have easily out listed me each time; but she always kept herself in check, along with helping me with my tiles. It did not occur to me until much later that she did not want me to ever feel defeated. When I made as many words as I could, she would move my remaining tiles into unfamiliar words for me. We would then get a dictionary to look up each word. This game was one of my favorite ones to play. AS I WAS LEARNING ALL OF THESE new words, I had one semester where I had a teacher who was a horrible speller. At first, I thought they were joking and trying to test the students, but it was not the case. They were simply bad when it came to spelling; it was a good thing they were not teaching us English or literature. The irony of it was right after that class I had a class where the teacher was constantly telling us the origin for many of the words, he spoke to us. None of us really cared it turned out; though, I still have a memory that the word candelabra comes from a Latin term that literally means candle tree and the word hippopotamus comes from the Greek word for water horse. In the classroom there was a massive dictionary that the teacher kept at the side of the room on a ledge. Whenever a student did not understand or mispronounce a word, the teacher would have them walk over to the dictionary to look it up. Obviously, this was not enough preparation if any of us wanted to enter a spelling contest and especially if we wanted to go up against the students in this amazing documentary. THE NATIONAL SPELLING BEE HAS BEEN around since the 1920s, but since the 1990s the contest has been dominated by one group of Americans. What was their secret? This film festival winning picture was written by first timer Chris Weller and director Sam Rega (League of Millions, Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story). With appearances by Sanjay Gupta (Anderson Cooper 360-TV, Monday Mornings-TV) and Hari Kondabolu (All About Steve, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell-TV) among others, I was impressed by this movie. Since I have never sat and watched the telecast of the contest, I was surprised by the competitiveness and intensity that was on display. There was a mix of older and younger students that added levity and insight to their passion or maybe I should say desire. When I started watching this documentary, I thought I was going to witness parents who were dominating and strict, with only one thing on their mind—the contest. There were a couple of scenes that felt a bit repetitive; but overall the kids’ stories were so engaging and entertaining that I found myself getting anxious whenever a contest was in progress. This was a cinematic treat that provided me sustenance; I better look up the word sustenance, to make sure I am using it properly.
3 ½ stars
Laughter is the safety valve to life’s daily pressures. Bubbling up from the pit of the stomach, laughter purges tension and stress, replacing it with a euphoric effervescence. Humor comes in multiple shades since each person has their own unique form of funniness. Some people enjoy practical jokes while others prefer cerebral comedy. The former IT director of my company was an odd fellow. Disheveled with improper fitting clothes, he stuck out from the general population already besides his over 6 foot tall frame. One day at the office while working on an account, I heard him calling out for help from his workplace. When I came to his office door I found him wedged underneath his desk with only his head visible on his desktop, his chin resting on the rim. He tended to sit on the edge of his chair and it had flipped up behind him, causing him to fall down to the floor with his legs underneath the desk. The top of the chair came down and pressed up against his back while the chair bass was stuck into the wall behind him. He could not move since his arms were on his lap below the desk, with no room to maneuver them down to the floor for leverage. Now if your immediate reaction to this story was to laugh, then you will enjoy this comedy. This film was so inappropriate but oh so funny to me and the rest of the audience in the theater. Jason Bateman (Disconnect, Arrested Development-TV) was utterly outrageous playing Guy Trilby, an adult man who exploited a loophole to enter a children’s spelling bee contest. With news reporter Jenny Widgeon, played by Katherine Hahn (We’re the Millers, Wanderlust), in tow; Guy was out to prove a point, stopping at nothing to make sure it came across loud and clear. This being Jason’s directorial debut, he did a wonderful job keeping up a steady pace while fitting in a multitude of wicked moments. Allison Janney (The Way Way Back, Juno) was perfect playing Dr. Bernice Deagan, who was determined to stop Guy from ruining her competition. The script was tight, constantly balancing itself on the edge of funny and inappropriate. I think some people would find a few of the jokes and strong language offensive. I will say the first time Guy threw down off-color verbiage to a child I cringed; however, it was that unexpectedness that made me laugh in shock. If Jason Bateman had not been so skilled to pull off this role, I feel the movie would have not been as enjoyable or funny. From the amount of laughing I did during the film, I should be living stress free for at least a few weeks now.