Release date: March 14, 2014 (limited)
Running time: 89 minutes
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall
Who to see it with: Someone who can appreciate funny, un-politically correct antiheroes
Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words, the story of a foul-mouthed 40-year-old named Guy Trilby (played by Bateman) who uses a loophole to enter a children’s spelling bee. The farfetched premise is occasionally used to poke fun at the personalities of the bee contestants and their overzealous parents, but mostly serves as an excuse to place Guy in an absurd situation. Bateman gets to play against his usual straight gut type like he did in body-switching comedy The Change-Up. Kathryn Hahn’s initially mild-mannered reporter aids Guy while covering his story. At first, she seems like Guy’s “straight man”, but becomes funnier as she reveals her odd quirks.
The dark comedy is lightened by Guy’s relationship with fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a friendly ten-year-old who won’t leave Guy alone his signs of disinterest. Their bond provides some of the film’s funniest moments when Guy’s bad behavior rubs off on him. The kid seems like he may be included to humanize Guy—he’s an irredeemable jerk until he gives him a chance—but their interactions don’t feel forced. Guy’s attitude makes him a reliable source of mean, dirty jokes, but the character may be better than the movie. His secret background and late-movie decisions don’t make the greatest story nor make him as sympathetic as seemingly intended. Bad Words could have done more with its absurd premise, but is a funny showcase for an against-type Jason Bateman.