June 15, 2006

Wordplay opens!

This Friday, Wordplay opens in New York. Rotten Tomatoes displays a 90% fresh Critics Tomatometer rating, based (at this writing) on 18 good reviews and two negative ones.

One of the (moderate) raves is from Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. Her closing paragraph:

But sexiest of all (within the species) is surely Will Shortz, the New York Times puzzle editor and NPR ''puzzlemaster'' who has been running the ACPT since its inception. Shortz's gentle manner and French-foreign-agent mustache go a long way toward making him a thinking girl's pinup nerd — and this despite the man's pitiless insistence on making the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle ''tough as a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.''

In the New York Times, Phillip Lopate reviews the movie. I can't be sure he saw the same movie I saw; he writes, Many of the players emerge as colorfully rabid characters; others seem robotic and washed-out, obsession having the curious property of heightening some personalities, flattening others.—but I'm not sure which ones might be rabid and which ones robotic. Lopate also writes, And the documentary lapses, at times, into an overly fawning tribute to Mr. Shortz, with a tone of excessive self-congratulation and apologetic insistence that everyone is "having fun." On the contrary: finishing crossword puzzles is a serious matter. (Huh?) He continues, Whatever the documentary's flaws, the filmmakers should be saluted for giving us a rare glimpse of life in these trenches. ("Trenches"? "Serious matter"? What is this, World War I?)

Anyway, congratulations to Patrick Creadon and Christine O'Malley on officially birthing their cinematic baby, and congratulations to the stars of Wordplay, whose lives are likely to get crazier starting tomorrow. (Will, if you get tired of the fame, you can always shave off your "French-foreign-agent mustache" and go incognito.)

More links:

The Salon review, which aptly describes Ellen Ripstein as a sweet pussycat crossed with a competitive tigress.

On YouTube, someone has posted a clip of Will's Letterman appearance.

A 3 ½-star review from Newsday.

A somewhat pissy review from a FilmJerk.com critic: I have no problem with a joyous celebration of mental dexterity or any pass at rewarding intelligence, but the characters in "Wordplay" have an irritating passive-aggressive arrogance about them as they're asked to define their value in the puzzle world. (Hah!)

From The Onion's AV Club, a reasonably good review: "Wordplay" suggests what "Spellbound" might have grown up to become had it attended an Ivy League school and became an academic and NPR subscriber. The film's subjects are almost uniformly likable, self-deprecating, funny, and hyper-verbal, and their peculiar passion for crosswords and the sense of genial camaraderie among buffs proves surprisingly infectious.