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DVD Review: Wordplay

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Cliché. Ephemeral. Pretentious.

Just a few words that modern day film critics (something I aspire to be someday) use to describe bad movies. It is words that we put into motion to bring to life our feelings, perspectives and analysis about a particular film. In the case of the documentary Wordplay, none of the aforementioned words would be needed.

Wordplay is like a great crossword puzzle, intelligently crafted and captivating. It seems fitting, then, that the entire purpose of the film is to bring to life the world of crossword puzzles – and the dedicated puzzle solvers who are addicted to them. In the center of it all is Mr. Crossword Puzzle himself, Will Shortz, who makes his living as the crossword editor for The New York Times. Famous for their ingenious nature and their sometimes immense difficulty, Shortz’ puzzles are often heralded as the best around – so great, in fact, that he catches the eyes of some of New York's (and America’s) most notable names. From celebrities like comedian Jon Stewart and Yankees’ pitcher Mike Mussina to political icons like former President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole, it is apparent that Shortz’ fanbase stretches far beyond that kid who you cheated off of in 11th grade English class.

But Wordplay is not just about Will Shortz, but mostly about the large following that exists in the world of crosswords. Every year hundreds of crossword junkies travel to the American Crossword Puzzle Championships, put on by National Public Radio and led by Shortz. It follows the paths of five top notch word-ologists as they vie for the honor of being America’s top puzzle conqueror. What it turns into is some of the most intense and fascinating action in the history of crossword puzzles. It is very interesting to see how dedicated and passionate the contestants are, showing both a true competitive spirit and a genuine love for all things that are puzzling.

Adding to the intrigue of the film is the meticulous nature in which it is filmed. Rising above a normal documentary with the use of special effects and sometimes aggressive camera work, the film illuminates the world of crosswords rather than just placing a camera in a room and allowing life to happen. For such dry material, this what makes the story jump. Director Patrick Creadon made Wordplay his #1 across, as it was his directorial debut, but the style he shows leaves no doubt that he will be tapped for a # 2 down sometime soon.

Without being too “wordy”, this film is more fun than can ever be expected from crossword puzzles – something like the World Series of Poker for intellectuals. If you enjoy the art of decoding, then Wordplay is your kind of game.

Release Date: November 7, 2006

The Upside: Fun, entertaining and interesting – three things normally not associated with documentaries about crossword puzzles.

The Downside: It is about crossword puzzles – some people may just not be into it.

On the Side: Director Patrick Creadon was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Final Grade: 4.5 Stars

DVD Grade:
4 Stars

The DVD has some really great features, including a diary from Sundance and a few interesting featurettes. What is impressive is all of the documentary work done about a documentary. Go figure!

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About Neil Miller

  • Scott Butki

    Good review. Great movie.
    Scott