SXSW Review: Jason Bateman’s ‘Bad Words’

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I like it when name actors diversify themselves. Yeah, you’ll see a lot of them named as “producers” on the credits from time to time, but mostly that’s just a hollow credit. When someone set’s out to direct though, that’s the real deal. It takes huge cojones to put yourself out there, especially someone who’s got a good streak on their hands, like Jason Bateman does.

And it always makes me happy to say that said actor has done a fine job in his newest endeavor. Bateman, who is making his feature directorial debut with Bad Words, has made a worthy film that’ll make you laugh your ass off.

He plays Guy Trilby, an angry and bitter 40-year-old, who has made it his mission to win The Golden Quill. What’s The Golden Quill, you ask? Why, it’s a National Spelling Bee. For 8th Graders.

Trilby, who will do anything to win the contest, has found a loophole in the rulebook and has decided to wreak havoc on the competition, it’s officials and the participating students.

Along for the ride is a reporter (Kathryn Hahn), who tracks his every moves (and then some) to try and figure out his true motivation. As the story heats up, Guy starts to form a friendship with his strongest competitor, the cutest and smartest kid around, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand).

There are some truly funny moments and the crowd at SXSW ate it up. The film actually reminded me of Bad Santa, still hysterical but with way more heart. You actually understand why Bateman’s Trilby is such a jackass and you kind of feel for him. Do you forgive him for all the mayhem he’s caused? Nope. But you understand.

The movie is really about him and Chaitanya though. I usually loathe children in films but young Chand is terrific. With all the cruel things Trilby hurls at him, you don’t feel sorry for his character at all. Oddly enough, it sort of empowers him. It makes him stronger because it just rolls off of him and towards the end, Trilby see’s himself in the kid.

As an actor, I’ve always liked Bateman’s humor and his choices in comedies. He’s got a way of underplaying things that makes a scene 10-times funnier. As a director, he’s kept his comedic sensibilities and edge, and didn’t go for any cheap laughs. It’s got some flaws, yeah, but for a first time director, he killed it. Check it out when it opens because I’m betting you’ll enjoy yourself.

Director: Jason Bateman

Screenwriter: Andrew Dodge

Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney

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