Review: ‘Bad Words’ [SXSW 2014]

Bad Words Poster

Bad Words | Jason Bateman | March 28, 2014

Jason Bateman takes his first step into the directorial chair (for a feature length film, he’s done some directing with TV) with the raunchy comedy Bad Words. Based on a script penned by Andrew Dodge, Statham is also the star of the film.

Guy Trilby (Bateman) is a fully grown man participating in grade school spelling bee competitions. No matter how much he sticks out like a sore thumb he’s technically allowed to compete because of a loophole he discovered in the rulebook. His participation is of great frustration to fellow competitors, their parents, and the spelling bee hosts and staff alike.

His goal is the make it to the Golden Quell, the World Series of the spelling bee. In order to participate, each competitor needs to be sponsored by a publication. This is where journalist Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) comes in. She’s assigned to follow Guy around as he competes, in order to write a story about why on earth a grown man is competing in children’s spelling bee competitions. Jenny has been with him for weeks on end, paying for all his expenses, but can barely get anything out of him. He is the type of guy who acts like the world is against him, but he keeps all explanations of why close to his chest.

On his way to the Quell, he meets a young competitor named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand). Chaitanya wants to be his friend, but the mean-spirited and mad at the world Guy wants nothing to do with anyone. He spews out crude, often racist, insults at the kid, but Chaitanya stays determined to befriend him. Soon enough, the two of them form an unlikely bond that becomes the heart and soul of Bad Words. Definitely shades of Bad Santa are at play.

Bad Words Photo

The rapport and chemistry between Guy and Chaitanya is instant and often deadly hilarious. Guy is disturbingly cruel to this poor kid, yet the kid looks up to Guy as a role model. Soon enough the both of them are taking on the town, almost bonding as father and son.

This is the sort of role that Bateman is made for. Its’ right in his wheelhouse, and he has a great chemistry with Hahn and Chand. Hahn has some hilarious bits, and if you’ve seen her other work, you will more than likely enjoy her performance here. Chand holds his own amongst Bateman, offering his own fair share of scene-stealing moments and one-liners that he innocently plays off well.

Bad Words uses the atmosphere of both the competition and its competitors to its advantage, very much for its own pleasure. This may turn some people away from it, but for those with a bit of a sick twisted soul, it’s a feast.

Bateman has a strong handle on the material as a first time director. He’s clearly been in the game long enough to have a handle on things behind the scenes. Watching the film, I never once thought that it was the work of a first time director or became distracted with the notion that it was Bateman, which is a compliment for sure.

There’s a lot of great laughs to be found throughout the film in non-stop, assembly line fashion during the films first half. Sure, some misfire and it crosses certain boundaries too consistently, but there’s no denying that there are enough hysterical moments to make it all worthwhile. It certainly earns its R rating.

To be truthful, Bad Words caught me by surprise. Once we begin to learn about the true motives and intention of his journey to the spelling bee, the film shows a little bit of heart and soul sprinkled in between all the chaos. Thankfully the handling of the big reveal isn’t overly dramatic or played off over the top.

Kudos to you Bateman, you delivered us a rock solid comedy. One that I think will do quite well with audiences when its released wide later this month.