“Bad Words” Movie Review


     Jason Bateman makes his feature directorial debut with “Bad Words”, a simple and witty comedy you might think came from the mind of Mike Judge.  Bateman himself starred in Judge’s “Extract” and his calm, deadpan delivery of even the most vulgar of dialogue makes him a logical choice for anything Judge would create.  As a director, Bateman has created a film that could serve as a companion piece with both “Office Space” and “Extract” in that each is consistent in tone and exist within settings entrenched in normalcy.  The comic value here is solely dependent on Bateman’s subtle delivery in a number of everyday one on one confrontations with the people he encounters in the story.  It’s like the rap battles in “8 Mile” with no rhythm involved.  His character, Guy Trilby, will patiently wait while some unknowing individual who has an issue with him attempts to chastise him for some perceived wrongdoing.  Once the person is finished, he lashes out with vulgarity in tandem with incredible communication skills and intelligence leaving his victim speechless.  Bateman reminds me of a late 80s Dennis Miller mixed with the dirtiness of George Carlin, lashing out on his prey with a penchant for the use of metaphorical comparisons laced with a steady dose of raunchiness.

     The story follows Guy Trilby (Bateman) and his strange quest to become the National Spelling Bee champion.  Guy is 40 years old and has found a loophole in the rules that state a person is eligible to compete in these competitions so long as they have not completed the 8th Grade, which he apparently hasn’t.  This pits him against 12 year old kids in these events and the parents are not pleased.  After winning the regional competition in Ohio, Guy and the reporter who is financing the trip for a story, Jenny (Katheryn Hahn), make their way to the national event where they don’t exactly receive a warm welcome.

     The film’s running time is generally composed of two sequences.  The first being the live and nationally televised presentation of the National Spelling Bee and the on stage antics Guy uses in an attempt to distract his competition.  Save to say, some of what he does is outright wrong, as these kids are victimized by some truly embarrassing moments.  Even the attempts of the event coordinator to have Guy spell words long enough to make Mary Poppins wince, end with a sarcastic smirk by Guy and the moderator saying “correct”. Guy is smug, but he backs it up.  The spelling bee scenes work because, quite frankly, there has never been a comedy that I can recall about a spelling bee before which by itself invokes a high level of originality.

     The second and least satisfying sequence deals with the inevitable befriending of one of the child contestants.  The film already utilizes a father and son theme with Guy clearly having an ax to grind with his.  After a chance meeting on the flight, it’s not long after arriving at the hotel for the big event a young boy named Chai (Rohan Chand) becomes the kid who leaches on to the most unlikeliest of people because of the deficiencies of his own father.  For some reason, Chai’s father has told him he will stay in a hotel room alone in order to become a man, while his father stays in a swankier hotel miles away.  Since the event coordinator has purposely accommodated Guy with the housekeeping closet equipped with a fold out cot,  Guy is given a reason to at least spend some time with Chai, if only because his room has a mini bar.  Their relationship in the film moves from these scenes to a needless montage that chronicles Guy taking Chai out on the town drinking, stealing, and seeing a woman’s breasts for the first time.  Basically, Bateman has chosen to redo the same set of scenes from last summer’s “The Internship” which not a good thing.

     Though Bateman can play this kind of role in his sleep, you have to give high marks for daring to create a story centered around a 40 year old man competing in a spelling bee via an age old loophole.  Though many of the aforementioned scenes come off as standard for any film within the comedy universe, Bateman’s performance along with the razor sharp dialogue from Andrew Dodge’s script is enough to generate a number of solid laughs throughout.  It’s one of the few comedies in recent memory that doesn’t rely on any kind of site gag, instead achieving comedy through it’s namesake, “Bad Words”.  GRADE: B-