The Tony Award-winning musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee opens this Wednesday at Actor's Playhouse. It tells the story of six junior high kids (all played by adult actors) locked in a spelling bee competition while dealing with the quirky torment of prepubescent life.
The importance of friendships, the unnerving awkwardness of judging and being judged, the anxiety of the over-inflated importance of competition, and the overall agony of growing up are all themes that are comically explored. These themes have been explored before, of course, mainly in film. Here are the top five films dealing with the unnerving awkwardness of prepubescent angst.
1. The Bad News Bears (1975)
A down on his luck, lazy, former minor
league ballplayer, Morris Buttermaker, is forced to coach a band of
misfit kids in an ultra-competitive little league baseball tournament.
The Bears squad is made up of kids who are outsiders, are void of any
baseball talent, and weren't good enough to earn spots on the other
teams. But the foul-mouthed motley crew makes it all the way to the
championship game anyway, and come within a run of beating their
archrival, the conceited Yankees. Then, because they're fun and not smug
little assholes like the Yankees, the Bears celebrate by spraying
Buttermaker's beer all over themselves and telling the Yankees to shove
their giant first place trophy up their ass.
2. Stand By Me (1986)
Four young boys set off for an adventure go see a
dead body. At its heart, Stand By Me is about the waning years of our
childhood, when Pez candy was considered food and we could argue who
would win a fight between Superman and Mighty Mouse. It also shines a
light on a boy's most important years, when friendships meant
everything, and insulting each other's mother was a right of passage.
With the onset of puberty and junior high school and responsibility
looming, a camping trip to go see a corpse really isn't such a bad idea.
3. The Sandlot (1993)
The new kid on the block wants to learn how to
play baseball, and joins the neighborhood kids on their sandlot. But,
because he's not very good, and because kids are mean, vindictive little
pricks, the boy is embarrassed. But the boy is befriended by the most
talented ballplayer in the hood, and is welcomed into the pack. There's
the requisite rival gang, a kind-of-a-dick stepdad, and a mean dog that
eats baseballs. Also, the talented ballplayer grows up to be a star
major leaguer. Hooray for impossible happy endings!
4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A dysfunctional family dedicates itself
to getting little Olive to California so she can compete in the Little
Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Olive's father is a failed motivational
speaker and her mother is a chain smoker, who feeds her family KFC for
dinner every night. Her older brother has taken a vow of silence, her
uncle is gay and suicidal, and her granddad is a drug addict. In the end,
however, the family comes together while Olive puts on a
burlesque-style dance to the Rick James hit "Super Freak," much to the
shock of the pretentious audience members and pageant organizers. Olive
is not prim or prissy. She isn't forced to starve herself and she
doesn't put on more makeup than a Bourbon Street hooker, like the other
little girls in the pageant. She's comfortable in her own skin. And
instead of removing Olive from the stage, as the horrified organizers
insist they do, her family joins her on stage to dance with her. Suck on
that, you ostentatious jerks!
5. The Goonies (1985)
With their parents facing foreclosure thanks to
the Astoria Country Club (stupid rich people), a group of kids living in
Astoria, Oregon, stumble across an old treasure map while rummaging
through one of their parents' attic. A wild adventure ensues, along with
traps, caverns, dead pirates, evil fugitives and pirate booty. There's
also a troglodytic dude who wears a Superman t-shirt that befriends the
kids and aids their quest and screams "Hey you guys!" a lot. Not the
most relatable of coming of age stories, but still a hoot.
You can see more sidesplitting examples of preteen angst in The 25th
Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show opens on the main stage at
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the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater (280 Miracle Mile Coral
Gables) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and runs through February 13. Call
305-444-9293 or visit actorsplayhouse.org.