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Word Wars (2004)Word Wars (2004)

           Unlike its linguistic cousins about the national spelling bee (Spellbound) and crossword puzzles (Word Play), this documentary film never rises to the level of the mighty social phenomenon that it describes—Scrabble. My mother played Scrabble every day during her lunch hour; her battered board game was the one momento from her estate that I wanted. The film tries to build anticipation by tracking the nine months leading up to the 2002 US National championship in San Diego where 700 scrabblers compete for a first prize of $25,000. The narrative follows four word warriors who are not only uninteresting but unlikable: Matt Graham (ranked #7 in the country), Joel Sherman (#13), Marlon Hill (#29), and Joe Edey (#1). Except for Edey, none of these guys has anything like a normal life or job; they play Scrabble all day and are penniless. Hill sports dread locks and a foul mouth. Sherman is a college drop out obsessed by his acid reflux. Graham uses brain boosters. The film could have done more with average players like the neighbors who play outside in NYC's Washington Square, the Scrabble club at an elementary school, or people like my mom. Unfortunately, this is a mediocre film about a great game.

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