Monday, July 09, 2007

Word Wars (2004)

Some of my most favorite movies ever are the Christopher Guest "mockumentaries" This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and A Mighty Wind. (For Your Consideration, the sad exception, fell completely flat.)

Had I not known better I might've mistaken tonight's laundry-folding movie (Monday is wash day, dontcha know) for one of Guest's masterpieces.

Word Wars is a documentary about Scrabble competitions. Yes. The movie follows four players through some preliminary tournaments and to the 2002 nationals at a San Diego hotel. Apparently filmed without irony, it is wonderfully rich with phrases like "the Tiger Woods of Scrabble," and some excellent footage of players guzzling antacids, getting high, and practicing elaborate pre-game rituals. A gem: players burst out of the tournament room with a finished Scrabble board and plop down on the floor to conduct an animated "post mortem" of the match. A few yards away, a lovely bride, clearly waiting to make an entrance on her own big day, looks on in confusion. You can all but hear her say "wtf, Daddy?!" Whoever neglected to mention the Scrabble tournament being held the same day as her wedding is clearly going to pay. Other gems include a player showing the custom board he brought for "after hours action." Hoo boy.

The movie follows four competitors in particular. Joel is the acid reflux (among other things) guy. It is clear he has difficulty in social situations. It is unclear what he does in life besides play Scrabble. Marlon is from a tough East Baltimore neighborhood. He's rough around the edges and seems the unlikeliest entrant until you meet his grandmother, who takes no prisoners. Marlon spends time teaching elementary schools kids to play Scrabble, and takes a side trip to Tijuana during the tournament. Matt is a word fiend who also does stand up comedy. He takes fistfuls of supplements and talks about himself an awful lot. Joe is the defending champion and pregame Tai Chi enthusiast. He once took a job as a night watchman for time to read the dictionary, but these days only has time to study notecards while driving to and from work.

If you like Scrabble, you still might not like this movie. But if you like Scrabble and you liked Best in Show, don't miss it. Don't worry, I won't tell you who wins.


  1. I've seen that movie. It was interesting and funny, in an "oh dear, I'm about three tiles away from these people" kind of way.

    Have you seen Wordplay? It's about the New York Times crossword puzzle and the people who do it daily. John Stewart is in it, as is Bill Clinton and Mike Mussina from the *spit* Yankees. Excellent movie.

  2. I haven't seen it, but just put it on my Netflix queue. Cool.