An Interesting & Engaging Watch
Spelling The Dream is an interesting and fascinating look at a predominantly American pastime that’s captivated the nation and become a hub for Indian-Americans to thrive. Dating back to when the first winner of Indian-descent won the competition, Spelling The Dream chronicles the rise of prolific spellers and follows four prospective students in their quest to become Spelling Bee champion. Insightful and inspirational, this quirky documentary film offers a glimpse into what it takes to compete at this level.
The film begins with an iconic segment from the 2019 competition as 8 spellers – dubbed the Elite 8 – all win the prestigious title and raise the stakes for every student vying for gold in 2020. From here, the documentary then shifts its focus back to the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The middle portion of the film predominantly focuses on four different families and their bright children preparing to compete – Akash Vukoti, Shourav Dasari, Tejas Muthusamy, and Ashrita Gandhari. These four then join hundreds of others who go on to compete as we see the 2017 competition unfold.
While the subject matter is intriguing, the actual format of the film feels a little messy in the way it cuts back in time to show one particular year rather than where the focus feels like it should be – with The Elite 8. Don’t get me wrong, the documentary is certainly engaging and the four kids have those secret ingredients that all successful people have that makes this so endearing – hard work and dedication. It’s a heady cocktail of influence that drives the film forward but it’s hard not to think Spelling The Dream missed a trick by not showing the 2019 competition highlights instead.
With a bit of editing and shifting of the narrative, Spelling The Dream could have begun with an introduction to these four families, then cut back in time to show the history of the competition before showcasing highlights from the grueling three and a half hours of spelling the Elite 8 endured to make it such a momentous occasion. While it takes nothing away from the incredible performance in 2017, it’s also akin to a football documentary showing highlights from Man City’s dramatic win on the last day of the season to lift the title and then shifting the focus to a few years prior when they were first bought out. Sure it’s interesting but is it really as exciting?
Alongside the spelling bee competition is a consistent commentary focusing on racial stereotypes and prejudices that continue to dominate parts of the US. Taking choice excerpts from Twitter to reinforce the points made, Spelling The Dream sometimes falls a little too far into politically charged waters that feels at odds with the oftentimes uplifting and inspiration journey these four kids take. It’s also worth pointing out some of the choice words the parents make through this film, careful not to include any pushy parenting or showing what happens to these kids once the spelling competition ends.
It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity too as those quiet moments of reflective melancholy, as the kids try to grapple with life away from the limelight, is something that perhaps Spelling The Dream should have focused on to juxtapose the euphoria of competing and winning the competition.
Overall though Spelling The Dream is a pretty good documentary and certainly has its moments. The inspiration journeys these kids take and the incredible amount of hard work they put into memorizing and learning all these words is certainly inspiring but it’s also let down by a lacklustre structure and a focus that strays a little too far into racial bias rather than focusing on the uplifting nature of the competition itself. Despite its flaws, Spelling The Dream is well worth a watch.
Published: 03 June 2020 at 10:22am on
Verdict - 7/10