By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Bad Santa, Bad Grandpa, and now, Bad Words all have similar premises where a vulgar and unfiltered character bonds with a sweet and awkward child and becomes a better person through this friendship. Bad Words has scored little originality points from me and doesn’t have as strong a script as Santa or Grandpa, but at the same time, first time director Jason Bateman and first time screenwriter Andrew Dodge deliver an often uproariously funny comedy. The film is wrong in so many ways, but so wrong that the absurd obscenity of it all made me laugh.
Bateman, not only directs, but stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits flaws in the guidelines for participation in a national spelling bee and intends to win the event. Trilby cares little about the public perception of his behavior and probably cares even less for the children and their parents who are affected by his participation in a normally well-respected competition. He gets sponsored and befriended by an online reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn). He also draws the unwanted attention of spelling bee competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Ronan Chand), who has no friends and is only participating in the competition to appease his parents. Jenny and Chaitanya both bring out Trilby’s softer side, but he remains undeterred in his mission to make his year in the bee an infamous one.
Despite the overplayed plot of the movie, Dodge still offers an interesting spin. Both he and Bateman prove that they have the talents to do great work in filmmaking, but in the future, they need to not rehash a plot that is getting played out. Dodge does indicate that he can write comedy well, and Bateman shows that he has the goods to start a new career in movie direction. Most movie and television buffs already know he can act and excel at it, particularly in comedy, but Bad Words definitely shows some promising potential for some exceptional filmmaking in his future.
Usually portraying sweet and likable characters, Bateman makes a welcome departure by portraying Guy Trilby. Here he takes a nasty and angry character and rolls with it fearlessly and credibly. Kathryn Hahn’s Jenny Widgeon also is a bit of difference from the usually cartoonish characters she normally plays. Here she plays it mostly straight and reserved, save for some wilder moments between her and Bateman. Bateman’s adorably cute foil, Chand, performs well as the lonely, intelligent and innocent Chaitanya Chopra who receives an eye-opening education from the profane, and possibly insane Guy Trilby. The movie also has some fine appearances by Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Judith Hoag, and a hilarious cameo by Rachel Harris.
The movie intends to push the envelop and does go a little too far, in my opinion. This is coming from someone, not easily offended by movies and someone who enjoys comedy that challenges people’s values and standards. More reserved and conservative audiences should probably stay away, because this film will probably outrage people of a more sensitive nature. Because of the tired and overplayed plot, I think this movie is better left watched during a daytime visit to the theater or a rental later on. I do look forward to more directorial work by Jason Bateman and future screenplays by Andrew Dodge, because their freshman movie gives a glimpse of a bright future for both.