Bad Words: Almost Not So Bad

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Movies


Jason Bateman’s career has straddled both straight-man (Identity Thief, Arrested Development) and villain (Starsky and Hutch, Silver Spoons).  In his directorial debut, Bad Words, he gets to be both.   Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old loser who enters a kid’s National Spelling Bee.  Along the way he insults, undermines, blackmails and sometimes befriends in order to upend his fellow contestants.  Eventually, you know that this guy is going to soften once his revenge is out-of-the-way.  

As the title states Bad Words will be spoken, spelled and misspelled.  The loutishness is all very funny since it is delivered in Bateman’s trademark deadpan style.  It covers the character’s pain and if played loud enough some of the plot-holes.  Bad Words knows from the start that there is humor in watching over achieving kids get taken down a peg.   Every tough comedy shares a soft, squishy candy center.  

That squishy center exists in Bateman’s friendship with an eager to please continental Indian heritage youngster played by Rohan Chand.  The little taste of fatherhood allows Bateman’s character to overcome his father issues and spin the story towards a happy resolve.   It allows Bad Words to stretch comedic boundaries rather than break them.   

Sure Bad Words looks and feels Bad Santa-ish.  Novice screenwriter, Andrew Dodge sprinkles the subplots with enough reprehensible adult behavior in defense of children, parochial politicking and farcical hanky-panky to keep its adult edge but enough childhood sense to keep it honest and good. It offers life lessons and spelling lessons in abundance.  None of the put downs ever come close to a great Shakespearean insult (Falstaff:  . . . … you starveling, you elfskin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stockfish!”) but they all come from a guttural area where profanity meets humanity.  Insults don’t hurt so much if there are doughnuts around. 


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