Words make the world go around. They help us communicate, from talking to reading; even this review would not be possible without words. And knowing how to spell those words is just as important, especially if you’re Guy Trillby (Jason Bateman). Bateman stars and directs in the raunchy, foul-mouthed comedy, “Bad Words” while also marking his directorial debut. “Bad Words” follows Guy’s pursuit to win it all, as an unapologetic, rude, and vulgar 40-year old spelling genius who’s bullied his way into the most prominent national spelling bee.
Fans may know Bateman from “Arrested Development” fame, as the quick-witted and clever Michael Bluth. Bateman’s knack for verbal dexterity is at the center of “Bad Words’” humor, as Guy’s twisted tongue doesn’t hold back from any man, woman, or child. Many of his one-liners leave their victim speechless, at times due to the sheer crudeness of his remarks, rather than their wittiness. The shtick has been done before, from “Bad Santa” to “The Heat.” Some of the best lines from “Bad Words” are enough to leave the audience in stitches well after the movie has ended; while other exchanges may leave your head hanging in your hands, as Guy tries to cram every known sexist, homophobic and racist remark into one retort.
To call Guy a “bully” can be an understatement, as his verbal tirades push back anyone who tries to get close to him. One such person is Guy’s unlikely counterpart, 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a fellow competitor in the National Spelling Bee. Chaitanya’s child-like wonder plays a stark contrast to Guy’s pessimistic view of the world around him, and it’s his unfaltering optimism that eventually warms Guy’s stone cold heart. His sentiment can be a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s easy to forgive childhood innocence. Also looking to wear down Guy’s bullish suit of armor is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist trying to get to the center of Guy’s motivation for his inane antics. When we do inevitably learn why Guy has gone through all the trouble and effort to muscle his way into a children’s spelling bee, the “emotional moments” come a little bit too late. It’s hard to sympathize with Guy at this point, as he’s left a wake of destruction full of children’s broken dreams and tears. Though Bateman has shown a flair for the dramatic (“Juno”), it’s just not enough to sell the audience this time.
“Bad Words” marks a directorial first for Bateman, and it’s clear he’s worked his magic behind the scene, as well as in front. From the way he sets up his shots, to the almost “sepia” colored filter glossed over all the shots, “Bad Words” has its own personal Bateman touch. Though his skills in front and behind the camera may not be on the same level yet, I am optimistic for Bateman’s future projects. “Bad Words” is full of great laughs, ranging from the clever to the profane. It has set the bar high for 2014 comedies and is perfect for a movie-night out on the town.
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Photo courtesy of Hahn-Khayat/Abaca Press