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BAD WORDS is a dark comedy worth checking out

Posted on April 4th, 2014
Posted on April 4th, 2014

by Coop Cooper

One of the hardest movie genres to pull off is the ‘dark comedy’. Done wrong, it can be the ultimate disaster like “Joe Versus the Volcano”. Done right, it can become a cult hit like “Heathers” and “Harold and Maude”. “Bad Words” attempts this genre and succeeds, even though it’s more of an amusing, mean-spirited distraction than an instant classic.


Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a 40-something loser, has found a loophole in the grade school-level spelling bee circuit that allows him to compete against children for the national championship. This enrages the parents of the other competitors and baffles the administrators of the contest who try to block Trilby from competing at every match. Against her better judgement, Trilby’s lawyer (Kathryn Hahn) travels with him to ensure he is allowed to compete in each bee, although she is starting to suspect that Trilby has a hidden agenda for going to such great lengths to remain in the competition. Meanwhile, a precocious little competitor (Rohan Chand) befriends Trilby and begins to look up to him as a mentor, despite Trilby’s wildly irresponsible influence on him.

Bateman, who directed this film, channels other uncomfortable comedies like “Bad Santa” and “Young Adult” to create a film that has an indie feel but will appeal to a large audience. Bateman is squarely in his element here, playing a hatable man-child who obviously has a heart under all those layers of bitterness and sarcasm. The most memorable parts of the film happen when Bateman’s character is at his worst, getting back at people in childish ways and making other people miserable without batting an eyelash. There is an evil genius to his plan (he definitely studied hard to compete in these spelling bees) but there is also something pitiful about him as you realize the motive for his outrageous plan.

Kathryn Hahn is quickly becoming the go-to A-lister of comedic women in film and here she plays socially awkward and zany as effortlessly as Bateman plays passive-aggressive and snarky. Ever since I saw her gut-busting performance in “Stepbrothers” in 2008, I got the impression I would see a lot of her in the future. Now, if there is a major comedy in the theaters, chances are she is in it. She is a comedic chameleon who also does voiceovers in cartoons and guest appearances on TV shows. Although she is usually resigned to supporting roles, I think her career path will propel her into starring roles in a very short time.

Rohan Chand is the real find of this film. He has to play opposite of Bateman and match wits with him in so many scenes, especially with Bateman insulting him and involving him in very adult and uncomfortable situations. For a kid that age to come across so naturally in such a mature film, he must be a prodigy. He emotes with such a gleeful and innocent demeanor, it makes the scenes where he is exposed to so much profanity and raunchiness that much funnier. I think this kid will show up in a lot of comedies, R-rated and otherwise.

There are a few low spots in the film. One goes to Philip Baker Hall who plays the president and founder of the spelling bee organization. Hall seemed to be in such poor health that he could hardly deliver his lines or look interested enough to effectively execute his role. It’s sad considering the 82 year-old Hall has some terrifically memorable roles as recent as last year. Bateman probably had a sentimental reason for casting him, but I cringed at Hall’s performance as he looked almost too frail to be standing.


Additionally, Bateman’s character does some extremely reprehensible things that might make some viewers mentally check out. Some of his actions are so mean (especially towards Chand’s character) I nearly lost interest until I reminded myself that the film was a dark comedy and was bound to go to a few shadowy places. His character somewhat redeems himself, if not completely, and the film’s sense of humor does return in time to deliver a satisfying ending.

Fans of films like “Bad Santa” will find a guilty pleasure in this movie and most comedy fans will as well as long as they don’t take the dark elements too seriously. Bateman has been a solid comedic actor for years, but now he can add ‘feature comedic director’ to that resume.

Rating:  3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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