One look at Jason Bateman’s IMDB page shows that his career had become a disaster zone. Then, the Jason Bateman career comeback was complete after the first ten or fifteen minutes of “Arrested Development” aired on television. He won a Golden Globe, was nominated for a few Emmys, and it became a nice little story about a TV child star having that rare adult actor success.
Then something really weird happened. Bateman starred in two movies that made over $100 million (“Horrible Bosses” and “Identity Thief”). He had a different, very impressive small part in the underrated “State of Play”. Suddenly, Bateman became a movie star.
He’s taken that success and spun it right into the director’s chair, in addition to starring in “Bad Words”. Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year old man that is entering spelling bees via a loophole. That loophole is that no contestant may have passed the eighth grade by a specific date. Having never completed any schooling past seventh grade, Guy qualifies.
This would make you assume that Guy is an imbecile and these brilliant children would spell circles around him. Nope, Guy can spell pretty much any word out there and he can spell it with quickness.
He also spells them with arrogance, obnoxiousness, and intimidation tactics. All of this is being catalogued by Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a reporter whose online publication is not only going to publish Guy’s story, they are footing the bill and sponsoring him in his quest.
Guy eventually works his way up through regional and sectional tournaments and finds himself on national television, much to the chagrin of spelling bee president Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney). It also upsets the overly serious TV commentator team of Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall) and Pete Fowler (Ben Falcone), as they aren’t quite sure what to say about this bizarre situation.
Once Guy gets to the final competition, he meets Chaitayna Chopra (Rohan Chad). Chaitayna is exactly what you’d expect from an eight year old Indian kid; he’s shy, naive, and socially awkward. His only “friend” is his binder that he keeps his study material in.
Needless to say, once Guy sort of befriends him, Chaitayna’s horizons are expanded. Not only is he encouraged to curse, Guy takes him on a one night rampage of pranks, destruction, and his first experience with the female form. Their escapades are cut together in an hysterically funny montage that is deliciously wrong on every social level.
Don’t let the amount of children in “Bad Words” fool you. This is anything but a kid’s movie. There are uncomfortably funny sex scenes, massive amounts of profanity, and even some bad moral decisions by the folks running the spelling bee.
As with most movies when a child is a main character, the fate of “Bad Words” hinges on that performance. Rohan Chad excels in what really amounts to his first role that requires him to speak. He’s so sugary sweet and wide-eyed that even when his motivations are shown to be nefarious, it won’t matter. By the end of the movie, you want Chaitayna to win the spelling bee and defeat the repugnant and rude Guy.
As far as directing goes, Bateman doesn’t set the world on fire. There’s nothing too unique to see, but what Bateman does pull off as a first time director is making a highly disgusting story and main character likable. The scenes of Guy’s poor behavior are smartly cut with more serious moments so that you never feel overwhelmed.
Some comedies make the mistake of nonstop horrible moments from their main character and a movie can get annoying very quickly. “Bad Words” could easily be ninety minutes of watching a jerk be more and more of a jerk to diminishing returns. Bateman handles a very funny Andrew Dodge script with ease and there’s no doubt he should get behind the camera again in the future.
As far as Bateman in front of the camera, he is nothing like you’ve seen him before. Yes, the Bateman smarminess is there and his timing is impeccable as always, but he has never been such a sleazy, repulsive character before. His good looks go a long way in aiding him, but it’s really a testament to his skill as an actor for him to still be charming.
Case in point: Even after he insults an eight year old boy for being overweight, you like him. Maybe it’s because his cringe-worthy insults are so funny and clever that it seems to make it okay? Regardless, Bateman may have never been better than his performance as Guy Trilby.
“Bad Words” goes a bit off the rails in the closing ten or fifteen minutes, especially when Guy’s reason for this entire insane endeavor is revealed. It’s supposed to emotionally resonate, but it seems forced. In fact, once Chaitanya shows up and he and Guy share the screen together, it’s hard to not want every second of the remaining movie just be the two of them.
This is a biting and unflinching comedy that pulls no punches. “Bad Words” is not for the timid, but if you can handle the seemingly cruel nature of the main character, “Bad Words” is easily worth it and should end up as one of the best comedies of 2014.