Paul Galichia and Brian Weidling. (Kwaku Alston )
The spelling bee documentary "Spellbound" set the bar for wistful non-fiction examinations of pastime obsessives. With its heart-tugging potential, the template is surely enticing for many filmmakers, but the new film "Speak," regrettably, undercuts its potential simply because it hews to closely to the format.
Centered on the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, directors Paul Galichia and Brian Weidling initially promise a movie about fear of talking in front of groups, but that's quickly discarded once we meet the competitors, some of whom are already good at it, and have far more serious personal issues.
Positive-thinker and Dallas resident LaShunda Rundles is beset with medical troubles; L.A.-based actor Robert MacKenzie has an incurable heart ailment. The disquieting participant is Rich Hopkins, an ex-salesman with an amputated leg, money problems, health concerns, a wife and six children to support and professional-speaking career goals.
He's an ebullient storyteller with hard, worried eyes, and his emotional ups and downs provide the movie's thornier moments, when it threatens to dig into a certain type of American Dreamer. But he's one-sixth of a movie ultimately too superficially diffuse — and programmed to reveal a winner — to focus on one kind of human interest story.
"Speak." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.