The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee showcases the joys and pitfalls of cut-throat competition between six lovable loner kids (played by adults) as they spell their way to the top: sweet and sheepish Leaf Coneybear, a child of hippies who makes his own clothes; Olive Ostrovsky whose best friend is literally a dictionary; Logainne "Schwartzy" Schwartzandgrubennier, the lisping politico with two overbearing fathers; Marcy Park, the over-achieving academic all-star; chubby misfit William Barfee (pronounced "Bar-FAY") who uses his "magic foot" to spell out the words on the gymnasium floor; and last year's winner, Boy Scout Chip Tolentino, whose chance to defend his title is compromised when something quite unexpected pops up.
Presiding over the spelling bee are perky real estate agent Rona Lisa Perretti, once a champion herself, and her reluctant co-host Vice Principal Panch, whose jaded, bitter utterances balance Perretti's unadulterated enthusiasm. The judges pepper the bee with improvised quips, bizarre contestant introductions, and deliciously absurd and utterly unhelpful sentence examples for each spelling word. In addition to the six bookworms making their way up to the mic, audience members selected before the show also get a shot to take home the trophy and risk being escorted off stage by Mitch Mahoney, the bee's recently-paroled Comfort Counselor, armed with a juice box and a hug for disqualified spellers. While the contestants come from very different backgrounds, they all share the same fears of inadequacy and cherish dreams of acceptance, approval, and, ultimately, the golden trophy.
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