Director: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand
Release Date: 28th March 2014
First of all, can we just address the elephant in the room because Jason Bateman with short hair – we mean really short hair – just looks plain weird. Get it completely within the context of a calculated, single-minded, no nonsense character, but it is still very weird. However, a new haircut isn’t the only thing noteworthy about Jason Bateman in Bad Words, as he also steps into the director’s chair for this pitch black comedy about a guy with one hell of a chip on his shoulder.
Guy Trilby is a man whose past is deliberately unclear. Not mysterious, not controversial and certainly not anything cinematic, but unclear nonetheless. We join him through the gaze of journalist Jenny Widgeonm, played by the consistently underrated Kathryn Hahn, who is sent to cover his bizarre quest for glory on the spelling bee circuit. Much to the aggressive attestation of aggrieved parents, Guy mercilessly competes through to nationals, though his motivation for doing so is the question endlessly pursued by Jenny.
This is a conventional narrative that almost religiously adheres to all successful dark comedies preceding it. Guy is a man damaged by experience, with a heart locked behind a wall of sarcasm and negativity, but as he goes on his journey through the narrative, in this case ruthlessly charging from one act to the next, his non-consensual companions provide opportunities to rediscover his capacity for compassion and selflessness. Ultimately, it’s his unorthodox friendship with Chaitanya that acts as the heart of the film, providing an interesting and entertaining contrast that ultimately enriches the film more than a straight forward love interest ever could.
The premise is not one that everyone can buy into, but it’s a worthy watch as Bateman takes his experience behind the camera to provide a solid, though hardly award winning direction to his own performance, which as always is perfectly pitched for comedy. With Guy he looked like a perfect fit and within five minutes of watching you will forget anything else you’ve seen him in.
However, the story has its flaws and propels at rapid speed through the first act, which feels rushed and lacking exposition. Though this becomes forgivable as the film unfolds, you may wonder if you should have seen a prequel or something. It is but a minor criticism in what is a comedy I could rewatch time and time again. It hardly sets the world alight, yet it’s not cringeworthy enough to earn a spot on the shelf of guilty pleasures.
Bad Words looks like a vehicle for Bateman’s directorial pursuits, but feels like a passion project. This is his Garden State – it will likely never be revered, but should be respected by legions of fans who can watch his subtle yet heart-wrenching portrayal of a man adapting to a world alone, self-inflicted or not, and see a truly wonderful performance for what it is. It sits at the pivot of an entirely fine film that will have you questioning just how this never made it into cinemas over The Harry Hill Movie.