Synopsis: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.
Stars: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, Rachael Harris
Director: Jason Bateman
Running Length: 88 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Y’know the old adage that it’s not what you say but how you say it? That good rule of thumb can be applied to Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut, a black comedy with such a nasty streak that you’ll feel bad the moment you start to laugh. Bad Words…more like bad feelings.
It’s easy to see what attracted Bateman to the story of an adult who enters a series of spelling bees after discovering a specific clause that allows him to compete against children a quarter of his age. Andrew Dodge’s script was a hot ticket on Hollywood’s The Black List (a list of the top motion picture screenplays that haven’t been produced) and Bateman was looking to make the transition from directing television episodes of Arrested Development to something of the feature length variety.
The positive first: it’s short and Bateman was able to compile a hefty amount of good talent for supporting roles. From Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as a reporter ally of Bateman’s that also occasionally shares his bed to Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) as a sinister spelling bee head honcho, the deck was stacked in favor of Bad Words being a nice little nugget of fun. And tiny star Rohan Chand makes a nice foil to Bateman’s overgrown adolescent.
So why isn’t it a film I’d recommend? It’s so darn mean, that’s why. Very much in the vein of a cult hit like Bad Santa, the way these characters speak and act is so appalling and so disdainful that you can’t help but root for no one to succeed. I’m not going to say I didn’t laugh during Bad Words, because I did and often. However it’s the gradual icky feeling I had as the film progressed, realizing that these people were just that awful that made it hard to sit through.
If I want to end on a positive note, I should say that the film does have what seems to be a complete arc. You can tell why the script found such favor as it made the rounds of Hollywood because it has clearly defined characters and a beginning, middle, and end that plays nicely with the conventions that audiences come to expect. All that in between stuff though…not fun.