Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Bad Words is a sweet revenge story, heavy on the Oedipal theme. Jason Bateman is Guy Trilby, who has managed to find a loophole in the national spelling bee rules so that as an adult he can compete in the contest. We think the man has no shame, and you can imagine what the parents of the other contestants think. Nevertheless, no one can stop him without being sued, so there he is up on the stage with the youngsters.
In many ways, Guy has not progressed much beyond their age—or at least the teenage years. He is completely preoccupied with himself and rude to anyone who even tries to have a conversation with him, much less be friends. He can be really mean in sabotaging others’ efforts, and exploitative when he wants something from someone. There is little to admire, even when we see his intellectual gifts, and it is far into the film before we learn a major truth about him.
Much of the story centers on his friendship with a young contestant with Indian heritage. This is a one-sided relationship assertively pursued by Chaitainya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a charming boy who is desperate to find a friend, even one who constantly insults him. Guy accepts him only insofar as the child suits his purposes. But the sheltered Chopra thinks Guy is wonderful when he takes him out on sprees and introduces him to adult pleasures. He has been brought up well, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and ignoring all of Guy’s put-downs. He is a true-blue friend.
The ending is very cleverly done, and has a completely unexpected twist that is most entertaining. Andrew Dodge, the screenwriter, deserves credit for this and for a novel and intriguing story. I must say, however, that some of the comedy goes over the top in being socially unacceptable in that adults engaging in some of Guy’s behaviors could be criminally prosecuted.
It is a funny and entertaining film, however, for the most part, and Bateman’s direction and acting the main role is expertly done. Kathryn Hahn as Jenny, the journalist who is assisting Guy in his project, is also skillful in portraying a slightly kooky but bright woman who is an ace reporter. Other standouts are Allison Janney as the woman running the national bee and Philip Baker Hall, the patriarch of the contest.
Not for the tender-eared, but clever in its presentation and story twists.
By: Donna R. Copeland
JASON BATEMAN KATHRYN KAHN ROHAN CHAND PHILLIP BAKER HALL
ALLISON JANNEY BEN FALCONE
Jason Bateman seems like a misunderstood actor and comedian, and I only realized this after meeting him at the premiere of Bad Words during the SXSW film festival. He wasn’t funny in person; he wasn’t cocky, but precise and real. Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words in the year's most sarcastic script by Andrew Dodge. This is a dark comedy, so all the laughs are played hard and hurtful; it’s about spite and hurting someone who can hurt you in the most derogatory fashion. Bateman, who does drama as well as comedy, is virtually everywhere, including blockbusters, mainstream, and indie. He doesn’t seem to look at genre or character as much as opportunity, and Bad Words is a great culmination of all the things he is good at.
40-year-old Guy Trilby (Bateman) has found a loop hole in the national recognized spelling bee group and is perusing the competition, which he intends to win. Sponsored by an internet news journalist (Kahn), Trilby withholds his reasoning for grand standing the regional and then the main event, ran by celebrated historian Dr. Bowman (Hall). From the parents of the children who have worked hard to secure a spot in the spelling bee to those who seek to keep decency with the scholarship program, they all come after Trilby, who continues to mock, degrade and humiliate the entire organization, which just so happens to be televised for the first time in its history.
The sarcastic dialogue is what I enjoyed the most; professionals attempting to remain calm and studious under the type of ridicule this characters throws their way is thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Allison Janney, in her few scenes sparing with Bateman, is pure comic genius. Bad Words does ultimately have a point and a lesson to be learned; it isn’t all about offending tradition. “Not everything is about winning,” the 10 year Chaitanaya tells Trilby; “Closure is pretty neat too,” he responds. There is also a hilarious sequence with Rachel Harris (Natural Selection, Diary of a Wimpy Kid), who plays a foul mouthed mother that had me in stiches.
Bad Words had a nice revenge type structure to it, and the choice to keep the audience in the dark regarding Trilby’s motives makes it even more interesting. Thankfully the pay-off is worth it; lessons are learned, and while the behavior Trilby is using isn’t necessarily condoned, this comedy does seem to clue the audience in at an early moment that moments of suspension of reality are in play. It’s not a perfect comedy, and far from a perfect film, but Bateman has created something here that we don’t see too often: a lead character willing to ruin something for everyone out there just to prove a grand point and embarrass someone; it’s the type of hateful behavior many of us have at least contemplated before.
Final Thought – Bateman at his most creative.
By: Dustin Chase