Bad Words Brings Out the Worst in Bateman
- Friday, March 21, 2014
DVD Release Date: July 8, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: March 21, 2014
Rating: R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity
Run Time: 88 min.
Director: Jason Bateman
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Katherine Hahn, Phillip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone
Ever since his childhood roles on Silver Spoons and It's Your Move, Jason Bateman has displayed a devious side. More Eddie Haskell than Bobby Brady, Bateman has made a career of playing characters who could alternate between charm and smarm—a smart-aleck, but likeable in his own way.
Bateman's personality switch-hitting suited him into adulthood as he transitioned from memorable bit parts (State of Play) and supporting roles (Juno) to lead performer (Extract). He had one of his biggest hits in Identity Thief, where he played the straight man to Melissa McCarthy's criminal comic foil, even though that story's attempts at weaving in redemptive elements didn't quite gel.
Bad Words takes a similar tack, allowing Bateman's character, 40-year-old Guy Trilby, to unleash understated but lacerating attacks against children and parents in order to carry out a deeply personal plan. This acting out is played for laughs, making for a more or less uncomfortable viewing experience depending on your tolerance for such pranks and put-downs, even if you’re able to tolerate, as the title indicates, the barrage of bad language.
A product-warranty proofreader, Guy has learned to be a disappointment to himself and to others. So it's no concern to him when he launches a plan to enter The Golden Quill national spelling bee and, in doing so, earns himself plenty of enemies. He exploits some muddy language in the spelling bee's rules to bulldoze his way into the nationally televised finals.
Parents of the other contestants aren't happy. Guy shouldn't be there, they argue, especially because he keeps winning. Guy's a great speller, of course, but his strategy goes beyond knowing which letter goes after which. It's in psychological warfare that Guy has a great advantage, with his decades of life experience allowing him to play his young contestants for fools. He criticizes one bluntly spoken youngster for weighing too much, suggests to another that his mother has been unfaithful to the contestant's father and uses some strategically placed ketchup to convince a contestant that she's having her first period.
A little of that sort of humor goes a long way, but it's the bread-and-butter of Bad Words. If you can't fill up on such humor, don't expect to find much else to redeem the film, despite some attempt to make Guy's skewed motives in entering the spelling bee seem justifiable.
As Guy works his way to larger events, he befriends a young Indian boy named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand, Jack and Jill), whose father has left him alone in a hotel room down the hall from Guy. We can figure out where the story will go, with Guy teaching Chaitanya how to live a little, while Chaitanya helps Guy rediscover a sense of innocence and wonder. Except that Bad Words tilts the balance decidedly in the direction of Guy teaching Chaitanya the lessons the grown man thinks are important. These involve the minibar, theft of a lobster and an encounter with a prostitute.
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