BAD WORDS Movie Review – Jason Bateman Is In His Element
Why would a 40-year-old man enter a spelling bee for kids? Is he suffering from a brutal case of arrested development (hint, hint, wink, wink)? A loser? Or, is there some hidden motive to destroying kid’s dreams and making a mockery of the National Quill Spelling Bee? That’s the key question behind Bad Words, the directorial debut of Jason Bateman.
Accompanied by his spelling bee sponsor, a reporter trying to uncover his true motives (the always funny Kathryn Hahn), Guy Trilby (Bateman) is that 40-year-old man, and even he admits his plan to win the spelling bee and beat a bunch of kids is a little on the ridiculous side. Even after befriending Chaitanaya, a 10-year-old contestant with an absentee father, Guy refuses to give up on his goal of spelling bee domination. Come hell or high water, the National Quill Spelling Bee will be his.
As Guy, the eighth grade dropout with a knack for knowing how to spell every word in the English language, Bateman plays the kind of snarky, loveable fellow he’s made a career out of, with one major exception. Guy is a horrific human being. His idea of a good deed is paying an overweight hooker to flash a young kid who thinks some women don’t have nipples.
Awful as he is, it’s hard to root against him, partially because of Bateman’s charm, but when most of the other adults are as bad, or worse, than Guy, including a spelling bee director (Alison Janney) hell-bent on getting him out of the competition, it’s hard to pull against him. But, still. Guy is willing to unload on any and everything in his path, whether it’s children, angry adults, or anything in between. With the exception of his reporter friend, everybody is a target for Guy.
What keeps Bad Words from spiraling into being completely detestable is the relationship between Guy and Chaitanya. Twisted as it is, their friendship reveals Guy isn’t all bad, and became the grumpy man he is after being beaten down by life.
Bad Words is very funny, but the film is neither as vulgar as it can be, or as satirical as it wants to be. Running at a lean 88 minutes, the movie doesn’t have time to flesh out anything, except for Guy and Chaitanya’s relationship. Even Guy’s reason for entering the spelling bee feels tacked on. There just isn’t enough time to add anything substantial to the plot.
Bateman exudes a cool confidence as director, and his comedic timing is still impeccable. He’s been making comedies long enough, the man knows how to get a laugh out of a scene. Bad Words is a solid, funny debut, but that short run time makes it feel like there just isn’t a lot to it.