TIFF 2013: Bad Words – Movie Review

Director: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall
Runtime: 88 min
Rating: 18A

Off -colour humour can be effective or fall flat. Many films feature moments of political incorrectness, however, these scenes are often more funny than they are offensive. In the case of a film such as Little Miss Sunshine, for example, much is forgiven due to the heart of gold at the movie’s core. Jason Bateman’s Bad Words has the potential to be such a film. Unfortunately, a mean spirit causes this movie to lack the sweetness of a truly “quirky” film, resulting in a piece that may offer a few laughs but is, overall, more rude and uncomfortable than funny.

Bateman makes his directorial debut with Bad Words. He also stars in the film as Guy Trilby, a forty-something-year-old who enters a children’s spelling bee due to a loophole he discovers in the regulations. Although he didn’t complete his schooling, Guy is brilliant, and appears set to win the competition and destroy the dreams of many bright young spellers, and of their overbearing parents. Against his will, Guy forms a relationship with fellow competitor Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who threatens to upend Guy’s meticulously set plans. The piece is ultimately a satire, poking fun at the world of the spelling bee while revealing its ridiculousness and indicating its flaws.

'Bad Words' Premiere - Credit: JustJared.com

Bateman’s character Guy is thoroughly unlikeable throughout most of the film, as he supposed to be. A more relatable character appears in Chaitanya, who often becomes the butt of Guy’s jokes, but remains unfailingly loyal and optimistic throughout. With impeccable comedic timing, rare in one so young, Chand generates more laughs than Bateman himself. Always excellent, Allison Janney is underused as the director of the spelling bee, and the character of Guy’s sex-addicted journalistic sponsor is under-developed and appears out of place. An interesting filmic technique places the audience in the position of the spelling bee viewer, as we watch the competition as if on television. The situations shown are so ridiculous, however, that even such a procedure cannot make them believable.

'Bad Words' Premiere - Credit: JustJared.com

This film attempts to set up a mystery around Guy’s behaviour, avoiding the explanation of his actions until the end. However, instead of wondering “What are his reasons for doing this?”, I found myself asking, “Do I even care?” By the time Guy’s predictable “redemption” comes near the conclusion of the piece, we are so thoroughly disgusted by him that there is no chance for recovery. The explanation given for Guy’s actions is meant to initiate forgiveness and understanding, but is far too weak to justify his behaviour.

Bad Words is a film about an adult acting like a child, a situation that is uncomfortable in real life as well as on the screen. A film must have a certain measure of sweetness to be considered “quirky”, and that is certainly lacking in Bad Words; even the morals at the end are too little, too late. There may be some funny moments present, but unfortunately, the winces come more often than the laughs.

Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival (Cover) and JustJared.com (Article Photos)