Sunday, August 10, 2003

Spellbound (Blitz, 2002) B+/B

Funny, suspenseful, charming, and emphatically empathetic, Spellbound is deservedly a huge arthouse hit. Who can forget Harry spazzing out as he struggles to spell the word "banns" (and then, in post-game, beats up both himself for making the "worst choice" and the announcer for pronouncing the word "bandz"). Wish Blitz dug deeper, though; he obviously wanted to say something substantial about the American dream through his tapestry of kids from all over America, but the film was too schematic and overdetermined to address it. It's easy to contrast Angela, the spiritual black girl from downtrodden D.C. with polo-playing, self-analytical Emily, who grew up in posh surroundings in New Haven with intellectual parents. Angela, April, the daughter of Mexican ranchhands, and Ted, the laconic heartland kid, aren't afforded the same opportunities as Emily or Neil, he of the psychotically hyper-driven parents. But Blitz doesn't do much with these connections, choosing instead to indulge in easy metaphors. If the spelling bee is some kind of metaphor for equal opportunity, I'm afraid it's only a partial fit. What larger meaning can really be gleaned from a competition where the winner is determined in no small part by the luck of the draw? But you know, on second thought, maybe there is nothing more "American" than coming out on top as a result of a combination of luck, preparation, smarts, and family advantages.