In comedian/actor Jason Bateman’s feature length directorial debut Bad Words, Guy Trilby (Bateman), a grumpy competitive adult, takes on a room full of children in the national spelling bee, having found a loophole in which anyone who has not completed 8th grade by the cut-off date can compete. Meanwhile, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), Guy’s journalist sponsor, tries to get his story out of him for her online newspaper. Guy is a tough shell to crack, telling us that Jenny will get her scoop once the climax comes.
Guy and Jenny also engage in an unnecessarily strained and awkward sexual relationship, a sub-plot that doesn’t pay off in the end.
Thickening the plot even further is young, bright-eyed contestant Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who gets in Guy’s cynical head with his undying naive cheer. It is an endearing performance from Chand.
Bateman, on the other hand, plays his best one-note possible, but it is one note all the same. I am a fan of Bateman’s smarmy asshole routine, but it can’t carry a feature-length performance, especially when his character is the lead.
The comedy, as well, is one raunchy note. Bateman’s sarcastic delivery doesn’t save the crass jokes, most of which fail to land. One montage, in particular, is lackluster and overly crude. In it, Guy and Chaitanya go on a bender that includes child drinking, faking a child’s death, and a crustacean clawing where you’d least want.
When it comes time for Guy to have some depth to his character, searching for inlets of emotional connection to the man is like grasping at straws. He may be a savant-like genius. He may have mommy and daddy issues. Regardless, he still acts like a child. One moment, when his character is meant to show some dimension, he literally plays with a toy car, with sound effects to boot.
With a predictable plot and characters that lack redeemable qualities, Bad Words misses the mark as a crude black comedy.
Normally, I’m a Jason Bateman fan. He plays a great character in Arrested Development. The disparity between Michael Bluth and Guy Trilby, however, makes all the difference. Michael Bluth has heart and depth of character. Guy, even at his most heartfelt, still acts like a baby.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Bad Words, but maybe you will be. If you want to give it a watch, you can find it on Amazon:
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Bad Words? If so, what did you think? Did you find it funny? Or was it too crude and emotionally lacking for its own good? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)