This is a small film that came and went pretty fast in 2014 (even though it was filmed in 2013). Shot on a budget under ten million dollars, Bad Words is the directorial debut of Jason Bateman and it stars Jason Bateman as Guy Trilby, a forty-something malcontent who works as a proofreader for warranties and such. He decides one day that he wants to start participating in spelling bees that are primarily meant for young children. Why? Well, that is the million dollar question. He convinces a local online paper to sponsor him and it’s off to the races to the Golden Quill Spelling Bee and prize money of 50,000 dollars. Although, Guy is not in it for the money. No, it is something else. But he won’t say. For him, it is personal and he intends to keep it that way, much to the chagrin of the reporter sent to cover him by the sponsoring online paper played by Kathryn Hahn. Much to chagrin of everybody, really; parents, teachers, the Golden Quill adminstrator (Allison Janney) and the Golden Quill spelling bee creator, Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall). They all take this spelling bee VERY seriously. For Guy it is serious, too but he intends to have fun while being serious.
Bad Words took me by surprise in a big way. Not only is it funny, but it is observant of peoples behavior, how people live vicariously through their children’s success and how everyone reacts to a forty year old man competing in a spelling bee. Nothing is over blown or over done and these characters seem to react as I would imagine they would react. Bateman is terrific as Guy. He is a foul mouthed heathen who drinks a lot and pretty much calls it like he sees it. Bateman’s performance is a perfect combination of acerbic wit and personal inner sadness. He is not a nice person but there is something about him that makes us root for him, anyway. We want him to come out on top. Bateman is the lifeblood of this film. He is casual, believable and a joy to watch.
Bateman has a terrific script to work with that was penned by first time screenwriter, Andrew Dodge. Dodge has an eye and an ear for how people talk and interact with one another and the dialogue in Bad Words is priceless. This is a smart movie with smart people. The supporting cast is equally enjoyable with Kathryn Hahn who follows Guy just waiting for the story that Guy has to tell. Why is he doing this when so many are against him? She also has a soft spot for him as a person and there is a mutual attraction between the two, no matter how hard they try to hide it. Their more intimate scenes are hysterical, too. It was nice to see Philip Baker Hall back on the big screen, as he has had some health issues in real life. He is great, here, as well as a man who has created something he is very proud of and NO ONE is going to make a mockery out of him or his spelling bee. Allison Janney, so good in SPY, turns in another solid performance as Dr. Deagan, the operator of the spelling bee. She was once a contestant and a winner of this same spelling bee and simply stayed on.
Which brings me to newcomer, Rohan Chand as Chaitanya Chopra. He is a ray of light to Guy’s darkness and no matter how hard Guy tries to shoot him down, Chaitanya comes right back with a smile on his face. This kid is nine years old and the two of them have terrific chemistry together. Chand seems to be a genuine good nature soul and is having fun in this film along with everyone else which translates into a comic gem of a film.
Bateman shows he has it as a director, too, as well as an actor. Bad Words is fun, clever and crisply shot and Bateman never lets the pacing get bogged down in sugary sentimentality. He knows how long to linger on the sweeter moments and and when to cut it to the next scene. Bad Words is billed as a comedy and it succeeds on that level, alone. Where is surprised me is the quieter poignant moments that are heartfelt but never overplayed. Major kudos to Bateman’s performance, his direction, Andrew Dodge’s script and Rohan Chand’s performance, as well. They make this into one special film.
Bad Words- ****1/2 out 5
Bad Words- Rated R for vulgar language, sexual content
Bad Words- Run Time is 90 minutes