Title: Bad Words
Directed by: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney and Rohan Chand
People often times contend with learning how to cope with new experiences in an unfamiliar environment, and can learn a tremendous deal about their true personalities and feelings when they’re put under pressure. Not only did acclaimed actor Jason Bateman, who has been performing since he was a teen actor in the 1980s, face a sense of uncertainty when he signed on to star in, and make his feature film directorial debut with, the new comedy ‘Bad Words,’ so did his character, Guy Trilby. The filmmaker entertainingly and realistically balanced humor with feelings of isolation and naivete in the movie, proving his understanding of the struggling protagonist’s search for identity as he sought to find his own creative voice.
‘Bad Words’ follows Guy, a 40-year-old who finds a loophole in the rules of the Golden Quill national spelling bee. For reasons he won’t divulge to the public, Guy decides to cause trouble by hijacking the competition, which is targeted to middle school participants, and enter as a contestant. Contest officials, outraged parents and overly ambitious eight graders are no match for Guy, who ruthlessly crushes his fellow competitors’ dreams of victory and fame. He leaves his mundane job for a few months to win the prize money, and quickly outpaces the pre-teens in their own quest for triumph.
Guy is aided to qualify for the matches by reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), who has the exclusive rights to his story. While the two subsequently begin to sleep together, and Jenny urges Guy to discuss why he wants to win the competition, he rejects her attempts to emotionally connect with her. He instead focuses on embarrassing the competition’s imperious chief, Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker hall), and administrator, Dr. Deagon (Allison Janney), who are both intent on having him eliminated from the spelling bee.
During the competition, Guy finds himself forming an unlikely alliance with one of his fellow competitors-the awkward 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). The young contestant is unfazed by the take-no-prisoners approach Guy holds in life. As the two unexpectedly become friends, and the final rounds of the Quill become heated, Guy realizes that his outlook on life is drastically changing.
Dodge created a comical, enticing and relatable story about an adult, who initially appears to be a well-adjusted member of society, but who actually struggling with, and searching for, his true identity. Guy instantly transforms into an offensive, distasteful competitor when he starts interacting with his fellow contestants, their parents and the spelling bee’s administrators, as he has no qualms about insulting those who get in his way of his plans. While Guy spends most of the story nonchalantly targeting those who pose a threat to his plans of winning the Quill, the screenwriter subtly, but emotionally, fuses the personable anti-hero who’s still learning how to cope with his isolation.
Guy’s original plan to do whatever necessary to secure his win is expressively thwarted throughout the story, particularly as he realizes that he can’t always fight those he perceives may be a threat. The exploration of how family and friends really care for each other throughout the competition satisfyingly takes Guy on his long needed rite of passage into mature adulthood.
While Bateman hilariously hit all of the jokes Dodge created for Guy with an intriguing hilarity, the actor-director also fully embraced the character’s determination to mature his emotional and mental well-being back into a healthy state. The actor’s portrayal of the oldest competitor in the spelling bee vibrantly showcases his true desire to pursue a cathartic journey to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. Bateman smartly infused his own sense of humor into the role, to add a much-needed sense of vulnerability and naïveté to Guy’s understandable, but often misguided, actions. Guy continuously, but understandably, diverts Jenny’s questioning about his personal life as she tries to gather information for her article, and he tries to distract Chaitanya from looking at him as a friend who could offer him much needed paternal guidance. But he begins to appreciate and embrace their innocence and lack of cynicism that he so strongly holds onto.
Not only did the Golden Globe-winning actor embrace Guy’s determination to right what he perceives to be a wrong that occurred to him during his childhood, but he also built a genuine bond with Hahn, Chand and the rest of the cast as the lead actor and director. Bateman and Hahn, who were friends before they began shooting the film, brought a natural chemistry and ease to their characters’ constant bickering on screen. The actor infused his character with a guard that the writer was unable to break down, despite her repeated attempts to help him. It took many repeated attempts of trying to help him to make Guy realize Jenny wasn’t just trying to do her job when she asked him personal questions.
Bateman also developed a truly comical bond with Chand, as the filmmaker reflected on his own childhood experiences as an actor to determine how to best communicate with the younger actor. He remembered how he liked to be spoken to as a child, when he was on such shows as ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Silver Spoon,’ and would speak to his co-star the same way. That bonding helped captured Chaitanya’s youthful, happy outlook on life and his relationships. The natural chemistry between the two actors also helped infused Guy’s inspiring transformation with a genuine believability.
‘Bad Words’ is a humorous and thrilling look into the heart-felt humanity that’s infused into the emotional coming-of-age experiences that Guy is experiencing over 20 years too late. The first-time feature filmmaker passionately and memorably balanced Dodge’s exploration of an isolated man, who’s determinedly searching for closure and redemption for the wrongs he felt were committed against him, with the new, genuine relationships with people who do truly care for him. Combined with a natural chemistry between the cast, the Emmy Award-nominated actor created a realatable comedy that was mixed with heart-felt emotion and raunchy humor.
Written by: Karen Benardello