Bad Words had the potential to be a lame foul-mouthed comedy a la Adam Sandler’s body of work. However, Jason Bateman’s directorial debut is surprisingly sweet and poignant while still packing an offensive, hilarious punch. The movie is called Bad Words for a good reason: this has some of the most offensive dialogue I’ve ever seen in a movie. Most of it is for shock value, similar to South Park, but its solid characters and pacing make for a much more rewarding experience compared to others in the shock-comedy genre.
Jason Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who never passed the eighth grade. He uses his middle school failure as an excuse to enter an elementary school spelling bee. The movie takes place during the three day championship as Guy deals with a barrage of criticism, tries to keep a reporter (Katheryn Hahn) at arm’s length, and develops an odd friendship with a little Indian boy named Chaitainya (played with surprising conviction by Rohan Chand, who has had a few very small roles in film and TV). Guy’s cruel and indifferent attitude is the source of all the humor in the movie, especially when it comes to his interactions with the parents of the spelling bee kids. They are stuck up and exaggerated, so when Guy goes on a horribly offensive tirade (NSFW), the reactions are priceless.
Chaitainya is a fantastic character. At the start of the movie, he’s bright and optimistic, but as the movie goes on and Guy begins to corrupt him, he starts to see a fulfilling side of life. He sees the value of real friendship (his “best friend” is his dictionary binder), and ultimately, a dark side of competition. As the movie develops, Chaitainya reacts to the outlandish events very naturally, just like an innocent kid would as he’s starting to be exposed to real life. Though he’s only a kid, Chand plays the role very professionally and believably, something that’s hard to find in a child actor. The only reason Guy hangs out with him is because his hotel room has a minibar, but Chaitainya creates this strange soft spot in Guy. Despite how much of a jerk Guy is throughout the whole movie, it feels genuine for him to give a helping hand to a kid whose father is distant and aloof. Even though Guy is still crass with him, it feels slightly sarcastic, like he’s trying to save face after letting his guard down. Their bizarre companionship is what drives the movie.
While the movie is very entertaining, Guy’s strange personal journey is what makes us want to keep watching. Without giving too much away, his strange reasons for wanting to be a part of this children's competition are intriguing enough that, when juxtaposed with his harsh attitude and admiration for Chaitainya, make Guy an interesting character that we want to root for (even when he verbally abuses spelling bee contestants onstage). Bad Words succeeds in bringing us both a ludicrous story with vulgar humor and a set of satisfying characters that have compelling things to do. They’re both handled in a way where they coexist but don’t clash, a very rare feat.