Bad Words Review

There's something inherently hilarious about watching bitter man-children petulantly taint the innocence of childhood. Framing the antics around a virtuous competition like a spelling bee make the shenanigans that much more fun. Surprisingly, Jason Bateman's directorial debut in Bad Words has heart too, shooting for more than just racy and offensive humor. Immediately as the film begins, Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is introduced as a middle-aged mean-spirited competitor in a spelling bee, obviously meant for children. He verbally harasses his competition, cementing his status as an unlikable and cynical jerk right off the bat. Naturally, both the parents of the children and the coordinators of the spelling bee are upset that Guy is even allowed to participate, but thanks to a loophole that states if a person has not passed the 8th Grade they are eligible, he is able to qualify and compete. After winning this local spelling bee - further infuriating everyone in the process - Guy makes like a bat out of hell with his trophy to the exit, entering a getaway car driven by Jenny (Kathryn Hahn); a journalist entirely unsuccessful thus far at breaking through to Guy's motives, but covering is the madness nonetheless. Next stop; the nationals!
It's on the flight there where Guy meets Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a naive and friendless yet happy-go-lucky young Indian child. Infatuated with getting to know Guy, Chaitanya makes conversation by asking various spelling bee related questions such as "What was your winning word?" The child's enthusiasm is met with ridicule that unapologetically crosses the line into racism, yet elicits audience laughs simply because the dialogue is gold and because the two leads have excellent chemistry together. Their personalities of smarm and charm offset each other for a hysterical dynamic. Needless to say, their encounter on the plane ride isn't the only one. As Guy struggles with his hotel room accommodations of a storage room, and takes notice that Chaitanya's father leaves him to a hotel room all by himself, a bond begins. It's also the best kind of bond an immature and juvenile middle-aged man can develop with an 11 year old child; nights of prostitute heckling and pranks so cold, that pure disbelief and shock accompany the uproarious laughter.
As mentioned before though, Bad Words does have a purpose aside from showing raunchy jokes. Guy's incredibly driven motivation to win the spelling bee - which also fuels his misanthropic outlook towards the world - remains a mystery throughout the film, when in most cases it would be a throwaway concept to spark all the jokes. It also allows the film to dive straight into the spelling bees rather than build them up through cookie-cutter exposition. Even when Bad Words manages to fall into a few tropes of the sub-genre, it manages to completely redirect expectations minutes later, doing something different instead of following conventions to a tee. Arguably the funniest moments of the film come during these more cliché plot points, as the writing, acting, and directing simply use the opportunity to go for the biggest laughs of the film. For the most part, Bad Words is a fairly hilarious experience although it isn't without its faults. It simply just doesn't do much interesting with any of its supporting characters, slightly dragging the film down a bit. These portions - although significant to the story - contain no focus on disrupting spelling bees or ruining childhood innocence, which is where the majority of the entertainment comes from.
Guy's journalist partner Jenny plays an important part but her character just isn't that entertaining, resulting in them being locked into a reoccurring joke that unfortunately gets old pretty quick, despite Jason and Kathryn clearly trying to make the material work. She solely comes across as dead weight to push the plot along, instead of bringing an added bite to the chaos. The final notable portion of the film is much more serious in tone, as it deals with the reasons Guy is obsessed with winning a national spelling bee. And while this plot point mostly works, it still feels under-developed and in need of an extra scene or two to fully make things resonate. The resolution to it all is highly satisfying however, resulting in a gut-bustingly hilarious nightmare of a spelling bee. Working with a script from newcomer Andrew Dodge, Jason Bateman delivers a steady stream of laughs in his directorial debut. Instead of opting for a more off-the-cuff approach for gags every second - which are usually hit and miss. Bad Words benefits from meticulously crafted comedy around jokes larger in scope, allowing for maximum effect with every punch-line. If Bateman can continue to snatch up scripts that align with his style of comedy, then a strong directorial CV will blossom. Bad Words Poster 600x888 Bad Words opens nationwide in the US on March 28th.

I write for WhatCulture (duh) and MammothCinema. Born with Muscular Dystrophy Type 2; lover of film, games, wrestling, and TV.