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With: Mike Birbiglia, Joe Edley, Stefan Fatsis, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, Joel Sherman
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Eric Chaikin, Julian Petrillo
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 81
Date: 01/01/2004
IMDB

Word Wars (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hardscrabble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like Spellbound and a dozen other recent documentaries that edge dangerously close to ridiculing their subjects, Word Wars makes us glad that we're not Scrabble champions and that we're watching a movie about them instead.

Based loosely on Stefan Fatsis's book Word Freak, Word Wars takes us through several national Scrabble tournaments via four of the world's top players: Joe Edley, the only three-time champion and a former homeless resident of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Matt Graham, an arrogant and annoying stand-up comic from New York, Marlon Hill, a Black Power advocate and G.I. Joel Sherman, a gangly nerd with severe gastro-intestinal problems (hence the nickname "G.I.").

We witness these champions spending their free time memorizing everything from two-letter words, to a list of words that use the letter "Q" without the letter "U" (getting stuck with the 10-point "Q" at the end of the game can cause a severe drop in points).

Co-directed by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo, Word Wars follows a pretty standard shot-on-video documentary format, but it still manages to get some fascinatingly candid moments from our four bizarre characters. It's a hugely entertaining film for anyone, but add bonus points if you're a Scrabble player or an anthropologist.

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