I have been watching a lot of Jason Bateman’s works lately. It started with binge watching Arrested Development. Next, I watched Identity Thief and The Gift. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed him in Zootopia and Central Intelligence, so the next logical step was to watch his directorial debut: Bad Words.
Bad Words is about forty year old Guy Trilby, played by Jason Bateman. Guy discovers he can enter a children’s spelling bee because he never completed the eighth grade. Guy uses this loophole to exploit the competition, much to the children’s parents displeasure.
Guy is accompanied by small-time reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn). She hopes to have his story as her exclusive. Once Guy gets to the national bee though, he is faced with Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) the director of the bee who vows to not let him get to the finals. Along the way, Guy is befriended by fellow competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand).
Bad Words is a dark comedy, so some of the humour and the situations created in the film definitely won’t appeal to all tastes. I found some of Guy’s interactions with the children to be weird and off-putting at times. That being said, Bateman’s scenes with Chand were the most enjoyable parts in the film.
Most of the film’s story and humour centre around its premise of an adult competing in a children’s competition. It doesn’t deviate much from this core which contributes to it having a short runtime. This isn’t a bad thing though. My main problem was when the film shoehorned in a couple minor subplots or tidbits of information that really didn’t deepen the film as much as it felt like they wanted them to.
The film has a very definite style to it. The scenes are darker than other comedies, and it has a very brown look to it. The photography is also interesting with Bateman chossing to frame his shots with foreground objects. This makes the film look like the audience is sitting in on conversations and lives they are merely eves dropping on. Bateman also uses slow motion to enhance actions for comedic effect.
My Favourites from the film: Bateman’s performance is on point for a character that you can root for but also dislike. The scenes of the spelling bees are fun to watch, and Bateman and Chand have great chemistry.
My Less enjoyed parts of the film: The scenes that attempt to add dramatic weight felt hollow, and the exposition felt forced or obvious. The immaturity of Guy is sometimes hard to watch, and Jenny’s part in the story was purely there to serve plot points.
My Recommendation: Not for all audiences. The dark humour and subjects of the film would be off-putting to some. On the other hand, the film is not ridiculous or rude enough for a strong R-rated comedy crowd. If you’re into strange, low budget comedies, it’s a good one. Excellent for the fans of Coen Brothers type films.