Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand
Directed by: Jason Bateman (debut)
Written by: Andrew Dodge (debut)
As the actor who had his career completely rejuvenated by the classic TV show “Arrested Development,” it is perhaps fitting that those words are the best description of Jason Bateman’s character in a seminal moment of his filmmaking career. Playing the role of Guy Trilby, a man who enters a spelling bee for children, Bateman makes his feature film directorial debut in the foul-mouthed comedy “Bad Words.”
Finding a loophole in the rules for “The Golden Quill” spelling bee, Guy Trilby (Bateman) decides to hijack a children’s spelling be for motives unknown. As he gets to the big contest, he runs into a 10-year-old named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) who follows Guy around, wanting desperately to be his friend. Annoyed by both Chaitanya and the reporter following him around for his story played by Kathryn Hahn, Guy must avoid distractions laid forth by the spelling bee organizers to try and achieve his goal.
For a guy who has been playing straight-man roles for years, (with the exception of a couple of projects) Bateman proves to be fully adept at playing a petulant prick. In fact, the films highest moments come as Bateman and first-time screenwriter Andrew Dodge combine to create some truly creative obscenities, in front of children no less. As his onscreen partner for most of the film, Chand’s personality is infectious. While he might give the occasional overenthusiastic line reading, he provides a really fun companionship and foil to Bateman’s character.
After the fast and often hilarious beginning of Trilby weaseling his way into the contest, the narrative begins to unravel, and to a certain extent, so does the film. The mysteries of Guy’s actions and motives are very slowly revealed, to the point where it feels a little too drawn out. The ending of the film also feels a little thrown together, and the cursing/getting into trouble schtick wears a touch thin. As a result, the film feels a bit messy and frontloaded with its most entertaining scenes.
Possibly the biggest issue facing “Bad Words” is the delicate balance between having moments in the film be humorous and just plain mean-spirited. It’s a line that is toed finely by Bateman and company throughout the course of the film. For the most part, “Bad Words” stays on the funny side of things. Faults aside, “Bad Words” has some truly big laughs at the expense of its sheer inappropriateness. It may not be the best comedy of the year, but Bateman has certainly shown himself to be a capable director.
“Bad Words” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.
For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.