Assoc. Arts & Culture Editor
What happens when you mix near X-Rated humor, a middle school spelling bee, and a 40-year-old man on a rampage? You get the first big-screen role for Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”, “Identity Thief”) as the director and star of “Bad Words.”
The movie follows the story of Guy Trilby (Bateman) and his spelling bee sponsor Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn, “Our Idiot Brother”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) as they set off to the Golden Quill national spelling bee on a mission of revenge that won’t be stopped by anyone, regardless of their (preteen) age. Trilby discovers a loophole in the spelling bee rule book that allows him to participate on the basis that he never completed the eighth grade. Along the way, his potty-mouth insults and lopsided ‘friendship’ with a young Indian boy named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand, “Jack and Jill”) not only have the contestants’ parents up in arms, but also make for the kind of humor that comes along with the “did he really just say that?” shock factor.
This movie is not for the faint of heart. Not only are the sex scenes hilariously awkward and painfully uncomfortable, but the abundant, albeit creative, use of insults and raunchy humor definitely make this a movie to avoid seeing with your parents. That being said, if you’re looking for a fun night out with friends, or want a laughter induced ab workout, this movie is right up your alley. Without missing a beat, the movie jumps into the humor early on and doesn’t let go until the very end. Several scenes had me laughing so hard that I could barely catch my breath.
At the risk of sounding like a comedic snob, I was pleasantly surprised that this was not another Adam Sandler-esque movie, with humor derived from crotch shots and fart jokes. Unlike Bateman’s last movie, “Identity Thief”, I found myself actually laughing out loud, rather than simply mentally noting that things were supposed to make me laugh but didn’t.
I truly appreciated the ability of this movie to have a holistic plot without being a comedy that uses cliché dialogue or forced scenes of sympathy to make the audience pity the main character for his trials and tribulations. Far too often slapstick humor is used as a last ditch effort to solicit laughter from an otherwise stoic audience in place of witty dialogue.
However, “Bad Words” has the exact opposite effect. The manipulation and perversely insulting jabs penned by screenwriting first-timer Andrew Dodge make the few scenes of physical comedy a nice augmentation to the script rather than replacing it.
Also, I was duly impressed with Chand’s performance as the devious and corruptible Chaitanya Chopra. At merely 10 years old, Chand’s performance was one that allowed him to showcase his abilities as a budding actor in a role that he flawlessly filled. It was refreshing to witness the talents of such a young actor who was able to fill the shoes of such an impressive role.
Bateman has experimented lightly with directing a handful of episodes in television shows like “Arrested Development” and “Family Matters”. This movie is the first time that he has really stepped behind the camera to exert his influence there as well as on screen. While he may be a newbie to the director’s chair, if his first go at cinematic directing is any indication of future performance, I would certainly not mind seeing more of Bateman behind the camera.