Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn
Review written by Tom Bevis
If you’re a fan of Arrested Development, chances are you have already seen the single episode directed by series star Jason Bateman. Now, Bad Words provides the public a chance to see Bateman try his hand at the big screen in his feature directorial debut. In the film, 40-year-old underachiever Guy Trilby (Bateman) who, via an over-looked loophole, enters a national spelling bee intended for middle-school aged children.
At its face value, Bad Words demonstrates a degree of range from star and director Jason Bateman. His performance as Trilby is as far as one can travel from his signature role as Arrested Development’s Michael Bluth without entering dangerous Breaking Bad territory. While we’ve seen Bateman as a bad guy (say, 2004’s Starsky & Hutch), we have never seen him quite this bad. For those of you accustomed to his lighter roles, even outside of Arrested Development (say, 2007’s Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), it will be shocking exactly how good Bateman is at playing a complete and absolute asshole.
Bateman’s apathetic, profanity-laced, and alarmingly accurate performance is surrounded similarly surprising and skillful performances. At the very center is relative newcomer Rohan Chand as Chaitainya, a fellow contestant in the spelling be whom Trilby adopts as a kind of protégé in vulgarity. While possessing the inherent shakiness of a child actor, Chand’s performance glistens with the authenticity of childhood curiosity and adoration, building the perfect foil for Bateman’s less-than-stoic Trilby.
As a director, Bateman plays it safe in terms of composition, music, and cinematography, opting to give the actors their room on screen and the space to do their job instead of gimmicky rapid-cut editing or intense camera work. The actors layer the story evenly across the hour-and-a-half long film, creating a leisurely rising pace. The film allows for no dead space: every scene is important and necessary. For a film so focused around the insane and improbable potty mouth of Trilby, the dialog is written with a quick cadence and the profanity employed with more wit and skill than anything coming from fellow swear word fan, Quinten Tarantino.
While Bateman’s attempt to break out of the nice-guy cocoon he’s wrapped himself in is surprising, there’s nothing surprising about the fact that he has crafted an original, modern, and entirely effective comedy. Fans of his work would appreciate the addition to his already considerable comedy repertoire. Naysayers will appreciate the glimpse of range he displays and the tight reigns he holds over the film. While it’s not likely Bad Words will see a sequel (not logically, anyway), it will be exciting to see Bateman’s directorial follow-up.