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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Bad Words
Bad Words
Focus Features // R // March 14, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted March 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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There is something to be said about a filmmaker that utilizes an antihero in a successful way. Most motion pictures try incredibly hard to make their protagonists so likable, that they come across as being forced. If a filmmaker wishes for the audience to connect with a character, it should come across as natural as possible. Writer Andrew Dodge and director Jason Bateman seem to embrace their unlikable lead in Bad Words, for the most part. We've all seen Jason Bateman acting in numerous films throughout the year, but directorial debuts from actors are always hit and miss. Fortunately, this one is much better than some may be expecting. You'll definitely want to put this one on your radar if it isn't already.

At the age of forty, Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) continues to enroll himself at the spelling bees by exploiting the loopholes found in the system. He's followed on this adventure by a journalist by the name of Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn). While she helps him when able, her main goal is to get material about Guy for an interesting story to break to her readers. Along the way, Guy meets a young competitor named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) and becomes friends with him. Some entrants are taking this competition much more seriously than others.

The first feeling that audiences will have after watching the trailers is a vibe similar to that of Bad Santa. They are both comedies with dark and raunchy screenplays that will surely offend some audiences. Both films pull a lot of their laughs through verbal cruelty to and around children. Keeping that in mind, we already know that Guy Trilby doesn't have the best of morals and displays crude behavior, but it's clear that there's more to him than what meets the eye. This is what keeps us invested in him. You'll continue wanting to know why this spelling bee is so important to him through most of the running time. I was just as intrigued with finding out more about him as journalist Jenny Widgeon. It was a smart move to keep audiences in the dark, as it allows us to make our assumptions before the big reveal is given to us on a silver platter.

This is a comedy after all, so you might be wondering how much time you'll actually spend laughing while watching it. Well, the laugh-per-minute ratio is fairly strong here, especially if you're a fan of raunchy humor. Guy seems to always have a great response to every insult he's served from fellow characters. Bad Words doesn't only focus on the spelling bee, as he starts spending time with fellow contestant, Chaitanya Chopra. His father wants him to act more like a man, so he gives him a lot of independence, but he's still only a young kid. Guy introduces an entirely new world for him, and even teaches him some new slang and behavior that deservingly received a lot of laughter at my press screening. There are enough one-liners and schenanigans here to have you laughing out loud quite often. Even though some of the jokes become slightly repetitive by the film's end, there are still plenty of gags that work incredibly well.

Much like many other vulgar pictures, Bad Words has a more sentimental side to it. This feature is also about growing up, learning to take responsibility, and friendship. For the most part, it compliments the film's more crude nature, and allows us to let our guard down a little bit. While there are a few scenes that feel sincere and real, the character disposition feels a little bit forced at this point. I respect the decision to follow an unlikable person's story, but why try so hard to make us root for him through the third act? If we're meant to like him, it should flow a little bit more naturally. We shouldn't be told who to like.

With Jason Bateman taking his first job in the directing chair for a motion picture, he still finds himself in front of the camera, as well. I'm usually against actors casting themselves in the lead role, but Bateman fits rather well as Guy Trilby. He's quick, witty, funny, and crude. This is perhaps the funniest we've seen him on the silver screen. Katheryn Hahn delivered quite a few laughs when she played Edie Fitzgerald in We're the Millers, and she's done it yet again. While Jenny is a completely different character, she keeps the laughs coming. There's a lot of banter throughout that goes on between Guy and Jenny, and both actors work together incredibly well. Rohan Chand is young and doesn't have a lot of acting credits quite yet, but he does a pretty good job as Chaitanya Chopra. A lot of children actors rarely act like actual kids, but Chand feels authentic here. The cast works very well together, and that's a huge asset for this film.

While not a masterpiece, this is an impressive debut for Jason Bateman. This might also be Andrew Dodge's first screenplay, but he has succeeded in delivering a lot of laughs here. This is easily the most that I've found myself laughing in the cinema over the past year. However, this is most certainly the type of comedy that you'll want to see with a crowd. This is a fun experience made even better by hearing the reactions of your fellow moviegoers. This is just another film that has proven that a lead character doesn't have to be likable to have the desire to follow their story. This comedy suffers from some issues through its third act, as it feels a bit forced. The feature flows well, but I can't help but feel that something's missing towards the end. Regardless, this is still a memorable comedy that is well-worth seeing. Bad Words is one of those few comedies that will actually have you laughing out loud. Recommended.

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