Bad Words is a shamelessly crude, rude, racist and mean-spirited comedy. But it’s funny mean-spirited fun, and inspired by the end of it all. To enjoy it, you’ll have to forget about your morals for ninety minutes. The main character is a largely immoral character who is shamelessly mean to kids. Remember when Cameron Diaz was like that to kids in 2011’s Bad Teacher? It’s like that, but way more effective. Jason Bateman’s directorial debut helps him prove in one stroke that he’s a good director, and his comedic delivery can actually make being mean to kids into something brutally hilarious.
Guy Trilby (Bateman) hates the world because of a rotten upbringing. His attitude makes him seem like a representation of America’s obsession with winning. One might wonder why he can sorta get away with being so mean to kids in the first place. Guy is often mean to kids on-stage, where it goes unnoticed; and he’s around many of them because he’s participating in a children’s spelling bee as an adult. He’s a strong speller who probably lost a spelling bee when he was a kid, and he wants revenge – but that angle’s never well-explained. He’s able to enter this spelling bee because of a loophole, where the speller may not have passed the eighth grade prior to a certain date. He enters it, to much controversy.
In the first scene when he wins a spelling bee to qualify for nationals (the Golden Quill Spelling Bee), he’s chased by a mob of angry parents. A woman spits at the car in slow motion. A man throws a chair at the car. The angry adults might just represent those in the audience who have their morals intact throughout, and really hate Guy. They’re angry because he’s competing, since it’s a competition made for children. Their hatred can get irritating.
Also amongst the ‘I Hate Guy Club’ include the director of the Golden Quill, Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) and the founder of the Bee, Dr. Bowman (Phillip Baker Hall). Janney is good at playing this type of mean authority figure, even though she doesn’t get any laughs. Her hatred towards Guy is too out there at times, mostly in the way that the hotel room she books him is a one-cot supply closet. What’s more outrageous: The fact that the one-dimensonal hotel manager allows this. She also hates Trilby, which is odd since she’s not a parent of anyone in the Bee; or affiliated with the Bee, other than spelling bee competitors are staying in her hotel. Why does her face seem to be complaining if she’s making money? Apparently, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief as well as morals.
Since the parents are so angry, they tell their kids to stay away from the old guy. There’s one wayward son found in Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). He befriends Guy, and the core of their mildly sweet relationship is that Chait needs a friend, and a father figure. An immoral and irresponsible father figure is better than a neglectful one, right? This relationship gives Guy some needed vulnerability. Bateman directs a decent performance out of Chand. He also includes a fun montage of them pulling pranks on unsuspecting citizens. One is deliciously raunchy. Bateman seems to enjoy doing montages and the occasional slow-motion sequence. His style’s pretty good, if familiar, and he’s equally shameless with tormenting children on-screen and his style behind the camera.
His comedic timing makes this film very funny. He’s one of Hollywood’s most likable actors playing one of the year’s biggest on-screen douchebags, but Bateman dominates the screen with a hilarious performance that is the film’s true great asset. Guy’s relationship with his online news outlet sponsor, Kathryn Hahn’s Jenny Widgeon, isn’t anything special. It’s basically a way to express his motivations, which are explained in the end in a lacklustre fashion. Her peculiar habit during sex musters big laughs. It is refreshing to see Kathryn Hahn in a role where she’s not always in-your-face raunchy. Bateman gets most of the crude lines. The crude comedy often relies on the raunch factor of it all.
The film’s predictable but entertaining, even though two stretches with few laughs make the comedic momentum suffer. What’s more impressive is that writer Andrew Dodge can make spelling bees a mildly entertaining thing. A main problem of the film is that it lacks much solidified substance.