Like Role Models meets Akeelah and the Bee
Bad Words is a dark comedy about Guy, an impulsive man-child who uses a loophole to enter a Children's Spelling Bee. It is the directorial debut of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), who also stars as Guy, who reluctantly befriends Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a smart, but innocent 10-year old competing in the same competition.
While the premise puts the characters into comedic situations, an uneven tone and the fact that the funniest bits have been spoiled by the marketing make the result a little disappointing. The film swings from shocking humor, to melancholy drama. It's got the bleakness of The Hangover Part II but with heartfelt emotional stakes. While we are meant to empathize with Bateman's immature character, he can often come off as mean spirited and unlikeable. I feel like the humor coming from casual racism, gross out gags, and profanity was better done in Bad Grandpa.
Bateman did a good job as director, including some great slow-motion sequences set to an awesome soundtrack. Yet I don't feel that he was right for the role. We've gotten too used to him playing the straight man who we can relate to. Because we typecast him in our minds, it becomes unpleasant to see someone we want to love acting so unlikeable. Chand, on the other hand, is delightful as the positive young Spelling Bee competitor.
In the third act, a small twist (though predictable) is effective at elevating the stakes and creating an interesting dynamic between the characters. While the film may be uneven, it is definitely risky, and has some funny moments, and some well done moments of drama.
Movie Rating: 6.5/10 Stars
After the screening, there was a Q & A with Director/Star Jason Bateman who used the opportunity to sort of defend his film. He talked about how much fun it was "trying to figure out how to tell a joke with an edit, a lens, or a lighting choice."
He acknowledged that there are "plenty of movies with more obvious growth and more likable characters, but we're trying to make something targeted to the niche audience with a specific, dark sense of humor."
Bateman stressed that he "didn't want to do something safe [he] was gonna take on this responsibility," and that "it's interesting to [him] to create characters that are doing wrong in a way you can empathize with, so that you see why they think what they're doing is right."
Someone brought up the pretty substantial use of voiceover in the film. There is a scene halfway through that is a "tough scene for [him] to watch. It gets a little uncomfortably long. So, we added voice-over to explain his actions, and changed the music to make it a little less threatening." "Voice-over is a crutch," he admitted, "but it can be pretty darn efficient."
Other things I learned were that if Bateman had to choose between acting and directing, he would choose directing, and his wife didn't like the film's poster (a close-up of his lips mid expletive) but it's necessary to set the tone for the audience.
Bad Words opens in theaters this Friday, March 13th.