The probing question throughout the outrageously vulgar Bad Words is one of origin: Where exactly does this piece of filmmaking stem from?
Running time: 89 min.
Stars: Jason Bateman, Kathyrn Hahn, Allison Janney
Jason Bateman has made a name for himself in Hollywood as playing the straight-laced pragmatist, a fallible human being who tries to do right but often ends up doing wrong.
Which is what makes Bad Words, Bateman’s first time behind the camera, such a mystifying piece of work.
Here Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old loner who has — for reasons unexplained — decided to enter the National Quill Spelling Bee, a mentally and intellectually rigorous competition that typically (and exclusively) hosts a myriad of robotic middle schoolers.
With the assistance of reporter Jenny Widgeon (played by Kathryn Hahn), Trilby has circumvented the prestigious system on a technicality making him eligible to compete: he never passed the eighth grade.
During the weekend long competition it’s Widgeon’s job to create some sort of story out of Trilby’s stunt. Scene after scene she pries, attempting glean information about who this prickly man is.
When Trilby repeatedly shuts her down, they engage in some rather unromantic sex (one of them can’t climax if eye contact is made).
In between having sex with Widgeon and spelling words with impressive proficiency, Trilby befriends fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (RohanChand), a kid so sweet and innocent it would be a crime to dislike him.
Initially Trilby treats the quixotic little boy like everyone else in his life, with contempt and disregard. But the two end up bonding over a their shared sense of loneliness.
Trilby takes the wide-eyed kid around town, momentarily serving as the de facto father our protagonist never had. Through doing donuts in various parking lots, eating some greasy fast food and looking at a random hooker’s breasts, Chopra manages to elicit humanity out of Trilby.
Up until this adorable kid came along, Trilby was just an insufferable, detestable prick who treated everyone around him poorly for no apparent reason.
Occasionally Bad Words examines what the documentary Spellbound illuminated back in 2002: the children competing in this highly competitive spelling bee are put under an obscene amount of pressure.
For years these bright kids must consistently train and study, often forced to do so by their restrictive and overbearing parents. Still, Bateman is far less concerned with the mental rigor of spelling bees as he is with cracking jokes.
For the most part the comedy presented in Bad Words is well-crafted. Trilby spews politically incorrect and outright racist zingers with absolutely zero consideration for those involved.
His comments have no bounds – from calling Chopra “Slumdog” to cursing out a whining mother by ragging on her knackered genitals. What Andrew Dodge’s screenplay lacks in nuance and narrative surprises, it makes up for in pure, adulterated humor.
Seldom have I encountered a widely distributed American comedy as utterly mean-spirited and profane. The script is crude and cruelly written and conceived, bound to put a sour taste in the mouths of unsuspecting moviegoers.
And yet, despite the film’s maliciousness, it is absolutely worth seeking out. Underneath Bad Words’ thick layer of sardonicism and snark, there is heart. You just have to dig deep. Very deep.