Akeelah and the Bee (Doug Atchison, 2006)
In going through the 2006 releases I missed and wanted to catch up on before the end of the year, this was the only mainstream Hollywood movie that interested me. I love spelling bees, and I did enjoy spelling along with some of the characters in this movie during the bees, but this is not exactly a great movie. It's admirable for the way it encourages hard work and individualism and promotes spelling as a cool and worthwhile activity, but plot-wise it follows the inspirational sports-movie formula so closely that it almost doesn't matter what competitive activity Akeelah is engaging in. She could've been a tennis player or an ice skater or a karate kid and all the plot elements would have been exactly the same - the snarlingly mean rival who turns out to be a big softie; the training montages set to motivational music (I counted three of these); the disapproving parent who just doesn't understand the activity; the stoic mentor with a secret; and so on. It wasn't poorly done, and it was sort of endearing, but it wasn't the spelling masterpiece I was hoping for.