Under the Spell
May I hear the word in a sentence, please?
Zaila Avant-garde’s history-making triumph at the Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier this month had TBP chomping to rewatch our favorite spelling-contest films. Expose your kids to the spelling bug by streaming these two blue-ribbon movies.
Spellbound (2002; HBO Max, Tubi, Peacock): Perhaps the most fun documentary ever, this classic follows eight kids (and their families) as they contend for the life-changing Scripps Bee and experience joy, pain, and the awkwardness of being a human being along the way.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006; Peacock, free with ads or you can upgrade): As the brilliant Akeelah, 10-year-old Keke Palmer convincingly navigates family, race, and class differences as she ascends to the top of the spelling world. Pint-size Palmer plays the role with blazing intelligence (you may have never even heard the word prestidigitation, but you’ll believe this kid can rattle off all fifteen letters on cue). Angela Bassett as Akeelah’s mother and Laurence Fishburne as her coach lend grownup gravitas to boot.
Plus, one adults-only pick…
Bad Words (2013; rent it for $3.80 on Prime Video): As Arrested Development wound down (for the second of its three wind-downs), Jason Bateman made his directorial debut with this R-rated box-office flop in which he also stars as Guy, a jerky middle-school dropout who at 40 enters the big national spelling bee on a technicality. This movie is not for everybody—and again, it’s certainly not for kids—but for fans of Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, and Allison Janney who can handle some coarse humor and have a thing for spelling (yes, I was the reigning Around the World champion in Mrs. Duncan’s fourth-grade class), it has its pleasures.