There's no other way to say it: Crossword fanatics are some of the biggest nerds to ever walk the Earth. Which makes them the perfect subjects for a documentary. And that documentary is Wordplay, a shockingly entertaining film about the phenomenon of crossword obsession—featuring celebrities, puzzle writers, and world champions.
The film succeeds on nearly every level—director Patrick Creadon wisely keeps the pace moving along swiftly, turning what might be a dull topic for many into a fun and funny little story. A couple of segments feature people actually solving puzzles; normally, this could make someone pass out from boredom, but Creadon punctuates the scenes with on-screen effects—like a light-up version of the puzzle—that work extraordinarily well.
The off-the-cuff interviews with Jon Stewart are expectedly hilarious, and watching Bill Clinton tackle a crossword puzzle serves as a pleasant—but depressing— reminder of how good the country had it when we had a president who could spell and had a grasp of basic history. And Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword, ties everything together—in fact, he's the closest thing to a star in the film.
The film is less successful, though, with its other celeb interviews, the selection of whom feels painfully random. PBS filmmaker Ken Burns? I get it, I guess. He's smart and all, but he's a terrible talking head. But the Indigo Girls? Holy Christ.
The final act of the film centers on a national crossword competition and its adorably dorky competitors. Think Spellbound, but with crosswords instead of spelling and socially inept adults instead of children. It's triumphant, in a sorta embarrassing kind of way.
I'd like to say the film is so great that it transcends its subject and will appeal even to non-crossword fans, but I'm not sure I can make that claim. For fanatics like me, though, Wordplay is basically porn. And as with real porn, it's hard to deny that watching isn't nearly as fun as doing.