Perennial nice guy Jason Bateman gets nasty in his directorial debut, Bad Words. He revels in bad behavior and worse language as an angry adult making trouble at a televised kids’ spelling bee.
- Director: Jason Bateman
- Writer: Andrew Dodge
- Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Allison Janey, Philip Baker Hall
- Cinematography: Ken Seng
- Original music by: Rolfe Kent
Guy Trilby, is a scowling man with a photographic memory and a chip on his shoulder. He uses a loophole in the rules of a spelling bee organization to enter the nationally televised final competition, the Golden Quill. Meanwhile, Trilby leaves a field of weeping tweens and angry parents in his wake.
- No More Mr. Michael Bluth Guy: Maybe Bateman was fed up with trying to convince other directors he could play a toxic jerk. He can be more than the affable everyman he’s played in Arrested Development, Identity Thief and elsewhere, so he cast himself as one. It’s certainly a blast watching Bateman use his dry delivery skills for evil instead of good for once.
- A Deep Bench: Bateman surrounds himself with great company, including Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall as higher-ups at the Golden Quill flummoxed by their failed attempts to halt Trilby’s ascent. And Hahn gets plenty of good exasperation time as his put-upon partner in crime and the sack. But young Rohan Chand successfully steals every scene he’s in, matching Bateman’s venom with wide-eyed optimism. Plus, there’s some impressive emotional range once the plot start twisting and turning.
- It Hurts to Laugh: Trilby has a particular way with people, and it involves some withering put-downs and elaborately profane insults. The jokes are mean, rapid-fire and incredibly creative, so much so, that you start to worry that screenwriter Dodge might really need a hug.
- Finding the Line: Even when the humor is designed to be outrageous and paint its protagonist as a misanthropic agitator, some salvos can still smack of going too far. Particularly, the lines at the expense of Chand’s ethnicity — the term “curry hole” comes to mind — seem to stray into outright meanness that most of the blush-enducing humor avoids.
- Throwback Time: For as much fun as Bad Words is, something about it feels like a film from an earlier time. It would have been a remarkable standout 10 or 15 years ago, but much of its style and presentation feel like a throwback to indie films of yesteryear.
Bateman proves that he’s just as good at being a terrible person as he is being the nice guy. Plus, he’s got impressive directing chops to boot. With a sound story, endearing supporting cast and jokes risque enough to make you feel bad about laughing, it’s a fine and fun directorial debut.
The Rating: 7/10
Bad Words opens in select cities March 14 and nationwide March 28.
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