Bad Words is a surprisingly good little film. It’s chock full of off-color humor, and I do mean off-color. Ok, filthy. The language is colorful like an acid rainbow.
I remember doing spelling bee’s in grade school. I was a pretty damn fine speller back in the day. But then the teacher told the class I hadn’t miss-spelled a word yet, and after that I think pressure got to me and I blew my perfect record. But that was only in the class, never any regional spelling bee or anything. There’s even more pressure there, man. And the whole national level of spelling bee’s are really intense. It’s like these beauty pageants for kids. It can be kinda weird, but at least spelling bee’s focus more on intellectual matters. Can’t really complain about trying to make kids too smart, right? But then we have Bad Words; and I can assure you there are definitely words in this film you don’t want your kids learning. Well, maybe not outside the home, anyway.
That being said, Bad Words centers on Guy Trilby, a 40 year old man that finds a loophole in the rules of a National Spelling Bee and has plans to compete in and derail the whole event for reasons he isn’t telling. He proceeds to humiliate 10-year olds without prejudice. Fun!
And it IS fun! Bad Words is a surprisingly good little film. It’s chock full of off-color humor, and I do mean off-color. Ok, filthy. The language is colorful like an acid rainbow. Don’t ask me how I know what that looks like. Jason Bateman is excellent as Guy Trilby, spouting expletives in his perfect deadpan face. He is a man on a mission; determined to win the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee, and by doing so, making a complete mockery of it. Why? He isn’t saying. Not even to his reporter companion who is doing a story about him for an online newspaper. She, Jenny, played by the awesome Kathryn Hahn, is as frustrated and vexed by Tribly as anyone (ok, maybe slightly less), and is one of the characters that help make us see some of Trilby’s likeability. Yeah, Guy is acting like a major prick, but there is clearly a reason, and he seems to be just a decent guy with a major issue to resolve. Hey, haven’t we all been there?
Bateman manages to play that really well here, thankfully, or we’d just end up hating his guts for being such a mean bastard. But in addition to Hahn, we have Rohan Chand as 10-year old Chaitanya Chopra, one of Tribly’s competitors in the spelling bee. Chopra is one of those smart, nerdy kids that everyone picks on simply because he’s smart. He doesn’t have any friends, unless you count his spelling bee notebook, which he named Todd. Yes, he named his notebook. That’s how sad this kid is. And yet, he never seems down about it. In fact, he’s cheerful most of the time. Trilby’s constant insults seem to roll right off of him. He insists that he and Tribly are friends, despite Trilby’s statements to the contrary. And his giving the middle finger.
But Guy sees a kid that needs to live a little, so he takes him out to a bar, to play pranks, and even hires a street walker to show him her boobs when Chopra claims that not all women have nipples. What better way to set a kid straight, right? I am tempted to make a joke about Show and Tell, but well, there you have it.
So, Bad Words can’t just be a crass, foul-mouthed comedy about bucking authority, can it? It COULD, but Jason Bateman and writer Andrew Dodge, are smarter than that. Surprisingly, this film has managed to balance all that with a solid emotional back story. One that felt natural in this context. It was indeed a pleasant surprise to actually feel something for these characters – Trilby in particular – and his plight.
There were one or two occasions where even I had to say “Ooooo, wow that was rough language”. But it was the kind of thing where you’re laughing while thinking you shouldn’t. And it’s a nice change to see Jason Bateman playing a character that is dishing out the FU’s instead of being the nice guy doormat type like in Arrested Development. And he really doesn’t hold back, either.
All in all, Bad Words is a solid three and a half kittenhands. I rather enjoyed it. It won’t win any awards, as is with most of these kind of comedies, but it’s worth seeing.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, always surprised when I’m surprised by a film being good.