There’s something so satisfying and freeing about swearing for the first time. No matter the severity of the swear word, you can’t help but feel giddy after letting loose and cursing, whether to yourself or at someone else. There’s this sense of freedom about misbehaving and saying something that society says is bad. It’s the same sensation every other time you swear from then-on-out and you can’t help but love doing it. What happens, however, when you combine a man who loves to swear and has no remorse, and a kids spelling bee full of children?
Guy Tribly (Jason Bateman) is kind of an asshole. He’s a cynical, 40-year-old man who loves to swear and couldn’t care less what you think of him. He introduces us to a pivotal moment in his life, where he decides that he’s going to enter in the National Spelling Bee. Through a loophole in the rulebook and Jenny Widegon (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist willing to support him, Guy competes in the regional spelling bee and simply annihilates the middle school competition. Of course, parents don’t take too kindly to this, as Guy has crushed all their hopes and aspirations. Guy becomes instantly hated as he rises to the national level, but there’s nothing to be done about it now and he has his mind set on taking home the gold. Not even the President of the Spelling board (Allison Janney) and the founder of the Bee (Philip Baker Hall) can stop Guy.
Aboard a flight to the National Spelling Bee, Guy is pestered by little Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), another hopeful contestant, on the flight. Guy passes him off and even swears at the child to get him to leave him be, yet Chaitanya persists. Unfortunately for Guy, their hotel rooms are close enough to keep them in contact and all Chaitanya really wants is a friend, as being a speller doesn’t help get you many of those. Rather than befriending Chaitanya, Guy becomes a terrible role model to the boy and leads him to do awful, yet fun things. Guy has a lonely past that he reveals during encounters with Chaitanya and Jenny, but does that mean what he’s doing is right? Who knows if he’ll get his life back on track, before he crushes more dreams.
Bad Words is the directorial debut for star Jason Bateman and he absolutely knocks it out of the park! Bateman’s sarcasm and dry humor is what got people to love him on Arrested Development and since, he’s played similar characters who always elicit laughter. This time around, Bateman lets loose and has a wonderful time spouting off some insanely harsh and horrific dialouge. He’s one of the more underrated talents in Hollywood and it’s a performance like this that will get him back on everybody’s radar. I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in a long time and that’s all thanks to Bateman, who really sells this zany film.
With Jason Bateman, timing is everything. Where most actors struggle with executing jokes and lines, Bateman shines with his impeccable timing. He waits, stirs the pot a little, and then unleashes a fury of curses and hate upon his helpless, adolescent victims. His character feels no remorse for what he says and does and that makes him all the funnier. Bateman never struggles to say or do something and his seemingly effortless execution will have you howling with laughter. He’s not a terribly likable character, but you can’t help but grin and snicker when he’s being a total asshole to some 10-year-old. He also excels with his more serious moments, where we learn a bit about his life and what drove him to be who he is now. I really liked the complexity of his character and the little things that made him tick.
Chand plays the sweetest little kid that you’ll ever see, but he’s also got so much too him under the surface. His passion lies with spelling and his best friend is his binder, Todd. His father forces him to win and he’s just looking for a friend. He’s innocent and curious and he gives Guy the benefit of the doubt when no one else does. It’s fun to watch their banter and how they react to certain situations. Kathryn Hahn plays a more tame character in the film, as she’s interested in Guy’s life and past. His motives perplex her and also entice her, as she also engages in certain hilarious activities with him. Janney and Baker Hall aren’t given much to do, but they utilize their time and lines well enough to move the film along. Most of the support falls on the shoulders of Chand, who manages to stay level with Bateman.
There are dozens of Bad Santa comparisons to be made about this film, but it’s different enough that I’d rather not delve into all that. The idea of a Spelling Bee works for this film on so many levels. The insults are so intricate and detailed with large words that you can mostly understand. The humor finds a balance of smart/witty and dumb/offensive. Throwing a disturbed, vile adult into the world of middle school spelling can only yield one outcome. Watching the parents and kids react to a grown man in the competition is priceless and everything that’s said about the situation is realistic and is dealt with fairly realistically. Even funnier, is how Bateman deals with the upset kids and parents, as he tears them a new one with his intellect and sarcasm. He holds nothing back and shuts these champion-building parents up. There’s also a ton of truth behind the pressure that parents put on their kids in these instances and the shame that comes with being eliminated. Bateman cleverly uses that to his advantage and exploits it to get rid of the competition. The whole situation of this film is just outrageously funny.
The more sensitive and emotional moments of this film had the potential to impact the film more, but they’re often cut short and don’t give that resolve that you hoped for. You’ll spend much of the time pondering about what brought Guy to do this and you’ll get fragments of answers, but never anything set in stone. You get a sense of the bigger picture and what you’re supposed to feel, but you never really feel bad for Guy, give how he treats himself and others. He’s not supposed to be likable, but the film tries to push that he is. The ending becomes muddled and it starts to fall apart in the third act. Hahn’s character also gets progressively shutout as Guy focuses his attention on Chaitanya. It’s a shame though, as her character has depth and really does care for Guy, even when he treats her poorly.
Bad Words is a great start to Jason Bateman’s career as a director and I’m incredibly pleased with where he’s headed. I don’t feel like a bad person when I laugh at certain jokes, so I enjoyed this film tremendously. Dull moments are rare in this film, as it’s almost non-stop hilarity that should appeal to anyone with a sense of humor. Even the vile humor will get anyone laughing, as it’s delivered so well by Bateman. If you’re looking to laugh and you don’t care about bad words, go see this film as quickly as you can. I guarantee that you’ll laugh until it hurts and you’ll have a hell of a time!
Bad Words Trailer