Film Title, Eight Letters

by Alan Rapp on June 30, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Wordplay
  • IMDB: link

wordplay-posterIntellectual pursuits can be fun.  The new documentary Wordplay looks at those who enjoy a good crossword puzzle from the makers, to the casual fans, to those who take the competition seriously enough to challenge each other in open competition.  It’s an entertaining look at a world that many probably aren’t completely aware of.

The documentary breaks down into three different parts.  First, there is a look at the puzzlemakers, most notably New York Times Crossword editor Bill Shortz.  Second, the film documents many celebrity fans of the New York Times Crossword.  And third, it examines the annual contest and the contestants who journey to Stanford, CT to be crowned the crossword champion of the year.

Of the three the most fascinating is the study of the championships and those involved including how they see themselves, how they believe the world see them, and how they act individually and collectively as a community.  The film shows their quirkiness but always in a respectful manner that allows the viewer to partake in a world that may indeed be far removed from their own.  What I found most interesting is the sense of community and family these people have for each other, and the common interests they share that is only enhanced and never eroded by the competition which brings them together.

The examination of how puzzles are put together and the process involving the basic rules for crosswords is also a nice bit of information for those who are outside or only casually observers.  The interviews with Bill Shortz are very informative and give you an inside look at the detail and time that goes into creating a New York Times Crossword.  Shortz himself is a fascinating character who deserves a documentary all his own.

Interestingly enough my least favorite part of the documentary was the celebrity endorsement segments which although I’m sure helped the film get made, distributed and marketed, aren’t nearly as interesting as the rest of the film.  These short interviews include well known celebrities such As Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton,  Bob Dole, the Indigo Girls, and Yankee’s pitcher Mike Mussina.  It’s not to say these weren’t entertaining, many of them were, but they weren’t as informative or as fascinating as the rest of the film.  Other than to show many famous people enjoy a good puzzle these bits seemed a little out of place with the rest of the documentary.

In a society that seems increasingly to frown upon intellectualism this is a great film about how such intellectual pursuits can be enjoyable and bring people together.  It’s a very enjoyable and uplifting documentary that is well put together and includes some great little graphic effects (especially those dealing with the contest in allowing the audience to play along from time to time), and even a clever opening song.  After a two week limited release the film gets a wider release starting today.  I would recommend it to documentary viewers, cinemaphiles, crossword puzzle fans, and people of all ages.

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