I finally got around to watching the movie "Wordplay," the one about crossword puzzles, especially the New York Times crossword puzzle, especially the annual tournament where crossword puzzlers convene in a Marriott hotel in Connecticut so they can hug each other and compete to see who can do the puzzles the fastest. Almost all the big critics loved this movie, and it's okay, but as a documentary it's way low on my list of favorites. (My list has "Crumb," "Grey Gardens," "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," and "Grizzly Man" at the top.)
My main problem is that I'm interested in crosswords — for many years, I had to do (and did) the NYT crossword every day — but I don't care about rushing through it trying to get it done as quickly as possible. To me, it ruins the pleasure to become so concerned about time rather than words and the structure of the grid. So I wasn't fascinated by the guys in the movie who were obsessing about their speed. I loved the scene where Merl Reagle constructs a crossword before our eyes. Constructing a puzzle — now there is a mystery to unfold! Solving puzzles — well, almost anyone can solve a NYT puzzle (especially if it's Monday).
But the tournament hands the filmmaker — Patrick Creadon — something to photograph, something with a built-in narrative arc. And so — in an open confession of lack of creativity and artistic vision — that's where Creadon went with this.
The movie is padded with sequences showing celebrities doing the NYT puzzle. It's fun enough to see Bill Clinton and — not in the same room — Jon Stewart doing crosswords on camera and talking as they go. But how much do you want to see of the crossword puzzlings of former NYT public editor David Okrent? Enough with the Indigo Girls! And who gives a rat's ass about Ken Burns? Oh, you love his documentaries? Then you shouldn't take my reviews of documentaries too seriously, but really, even if you love Ken Burns's documentaries, surely, you're not fascinated by Ken Burns, the man. Are you? Because that would be very sad. Not sad enough to be the subject of a film as profound as "Grey Gardens" or "Crumb." Just routine sad. Get-a-life sad.