When brainstorming movie ideas, “raunch comedy” and “spelling bee” are not two things that one would expect to come together. And yet it’s exactly that combination that landed the script for Bad Words on the Blacklist. And now a film of that script, directed by and starring Justin Bateman, is hitting theaters. Unfortunately, the film is of the variety of comedy that mistakes shock value for quality humor, and it’s mostly insufferable as a result. If there’s a cinematic spelling bee itch that you must scratch, look no further than Spellbound.
Filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz and his crew followed eight kids as they prepared for and later competed in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. It turns out that spelling is much more than just memorizing words. These contestants dive into whole histories of languages and get to understand English in and out. There’s a reason they’ll ask for a word’s language of origin or definition if they’re stumped — such information can help them intuit how to spell it. The amount of studying it takes to master this, on top of already above-average course loads (these are all honors students, of course), builds a not-inconsiderable amount of pressure on the kids.