Jason Bateman, a spelling bee and a little South Asian boy doing whisky shots under a bar: that’s what Bad Words promises and that’s what Bad Words gives.
The film is directed by and stars Bateman as 40-year-old Guy Trilby, a junior high school dropout with an ambiguous grudge against lexicons. Guy makes it his mission to enter and win the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee by means of a loophole in the rules — he never passed Grade 8 and is technically allowed to compete. But just because he can, does that mean he should?
That in mind, Bad Words is likely not the film to see with your grandma. While it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, it’s driven by racial humour and cynicism about the world. The film doesn’t criticize Guy for his undesirable habits — if anything it glorifies them. With every smart-ass comment, slur, flip of the bird or shot from the mini bar in a child’s hotel room, Guy becomes both more interesting and more guilt-inducing.
I didn’t want to like Guy and frankly I came out of the film still not liking him. He is rude, manipulative and sociopathic while he systematically destroys the hopes and dreams of countless pre-pubescent spellers for what felt like little reason at all. I spent the entire film hoping that it would build towards a redeeming moment for Guy, that I would find something relatable about him. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — the plot’s conclusion felt luke-warm at best. The ultimate motivation and reason for doing what he did are cliché and unsatisfying compared to the bulk of the movie.
Minor qualms about the plot aside, this is an enjoyable comedy movie. It’s maturely funny without being stupid and, while Guy isn’t a likable character, Bateman does a good job of crafting him into an interesting, smart-mouthed and enigmatic asshole.
Rohan Chand’s wide-eyed portrayal of Chaitainya Chopra, a fellow contestant and unlikely friend of Guy’s, is also particularly notable. Chand stands out as the sheltered South Asian boy whom Guy introduces to the vices of life — among them alcohol, petty theft and prostitution. As well, Kathryn Hahn plays Jenny, a low-level journalist bent on uncovering Guy’s full story and who apparently needs occasional sexual favours from him.
The humour of this film is bleak and far from politically correct, but ultimately it’s still one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Bateman approaches the humour with a sense of maturity and realism often lost in other comedies — it’s believable that Guy is doing and saying these things because he’s an asshole and not just because it makes for good laughs. This is not goofy comedy, nor is it family comedy. It’s gritty. It’s dark. It’s sometimes uncomfortable — but it’s hilarious through all of that.
At the end of the day, Bateman’s first turn at directing is surprisingly successful. It’s a unique and well put-together film that will draw plenty of laughs and won’t leave you bored. The ending may be a little unsatisfying, but ultimately the bulk of the comedy makes up for that. Definitely give Bad Words a watch if you’re looking for a fun night out with friends. Just check your morals at the door.