A review of “Word Wars” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: Unrated but could be PG for language

Run Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes



First there was the melodrama of chess and spelling bees.  The newest tournament game to hit the big screen is speed Scrabble, a complex wager of words that is no longer your grandma’s game.

If you can turn Eric Clapton into Narcoleptic in the blink of an eye, you’re a potential wacky word-meister who will excel at a pastime that combines numbers and logic in a complicated tour-de-force of skill. Word Wars follows four nationally ranked Scrabble players as they traverse the daily ideal in the hopes of becoming the next national champion at the 2002 Scrabble Nationals.

Living on a steady diet of take-out and Maalox while keeping the word-demons at bay with relentless practice games and a plethora of brain-boosting vitamins, these Scrabble junkies share their dreams, their fears, and the rocky journeys that led them to obsess over such anomalous applications as indole (“a chemical compound”) and jerrid (“a blunt javelin”).

Directors Eric Chaiken and Julian Petrillo keep tension at a minimum, forsaking the sinister pinging bell of Spellbound or the plucky familial heartstrings of Searching for Bobby Fischer.  Production values are on the cheap, but the human element is kept endearingly rich a la detailed background info (gastrointestinal reflux problems, learning disabilities and the like) and flaring tempers that are the hallmark of the low-budget tournament circuit.  Break out the board.