Word Wars is the story of four elite, and wildly eccentric, Scrabble players on the hunt for a $25,000 grand prize at the National Scrabble Championships. This film is fantastic, and is perhaps the funniest mocumentary ever made—certainly on par with Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and even This is Spinal Tap.
The only hitch is that Word Wars is a real documentary.
Elite Scrabble players are an odd bunch. If this film is representative, they are typically unemployed, live with their parents, and are perhaps the worst dressed of all strains of geeks. Put it this way: Scrabble geeks make Dungeons and Dragons geeks look cool.
The most colorful of the bunch is Marlon Hill, a pot smoking, slightly overweight and unemployed genius with dreads who fancies himself a modern day Malcolm X. When he tries to explain the nature of the English language, or the meaning of words, he comes across as a Saturday Night Live skit.
Next up in the nerd parade is "G.I. Joel," (right) a balding, emaciated hypochondriac who's named after his primary illness: gastrointestinal disorder. (Get it? G.I.?) Eighty percent of this screen time is dedicated to him explaining his illnesses, hacking up phlegm or trying to convince himself that he is good enough to win.
Matt Graham is compulsive gambler who dresses in t-shirts that have more holes than actual fabric. He is constantly looking for side action, is inconsistent in his play and has a love/hate relationship with Marlon.
The two fight each other constantly over Matt's propensity to put fake words on the Scrabble board. For those of you who are not expert Scrabble players, the rules allow you to put a fake word on the board. However, if another person challenges you, then you must supply the definition of the word before it is checked by a judge in the OPSD (Official Players Scrabble Dictionary). If you are challenged and your word is not in your dictionary, then you lose a turn — which is pretty much a death sentence. It is akin to bluffing in poker and while it is legal, it is considered incredibly bad form in Scrabble.
Matt and Marlon's fights are cut with them sharing rooms together and clearly they have a co-dependant relationship. In one latently homosexual moment of intimacy, Marlon shaves Matt's neck and hairline the night before a match in a hotel room.
Finally there is the defending national Scrabble champion Joe Edley who is the equivalent of the wildly confident trainer of Rhapsody in White in Best in Show. Edley gets all the speaking gigs and respect while Matt, Marlon and Joel look on. Edley's claim to fame was taking a job as night watchman in order to memorize the OPSD five hours a night. To prepare for matches Edley practices Tai Chi and gets acupuncture. Perhaps worst of all, we learn he has a wife and a child: a normal life!
I don't want to say too much more about this film, as I really want you to see it. I'll only add that the film culminates beautifully with Rufus Wainwright's gut-wrenching version of the Beatles "Across the Universe," which you should go download right now.