It’s unfortunate when a mediocre movie happens to good people. Bad Words is one of those unfortunate situations.
I laughed a lot, but I didn’t feel great about it. Jason Bateman’s character, Guy, is a terrible guy, the kind of guy you’d address as “guy” as you gave him the finger after he cut you off in traffic or something. He enters spelling bees just to beat out little kids, and he also pulls pranks to weed out the weaklings from the playing field. As much as I love watching Bateman cuss and be his usual sly self, it was a little hard with adorable, smart children standing in the way.
The most adorable and smartest of the lot was his comic foil and co-lead, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who has saucer-sized eyes and a very mature haircut. He and Bateman made a really great odd couple together, and I hope Chand gets a ton more roles, because he’s great. The rest of the kids also pull you back to your grade school days, as you watch them stress out over consonants and vowels, and go through their OCD motions, and try to impress their parents. Adolescence is (and always will be) rough, and it’s even rougher when you have to spell everything correctly. There was a part of me that wanted to yell at the TV and tell them that it gets better, because spell check is built into everything now.
Appearances by Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, and Philip Baker “Bookman” Hall all helped the case of this movie, of course. Hahn was Jenny, Guy’s aloof media sponsor and occasional fuck buddy; Janney was head of the Spelling Bee Association, or whatever the official name is; and Hall was the main judge of the National Spelling Bee (or whatever the official name is) and, as it turns out, Guy’s estranged dad. Cue touching music here.
I’d have said spoiler alert sooner, but I’m not going to recommend this movie to you. It’s fine, it’s Jason Bateman’s first foray into the directing world, and it shows that he knows what he’s doing with the camera, but maybe doesn’t know how to pick a script. Hard to say. Also hard to tell what the point of the movie was, other than a vessel for Bateman to be an amusing prick for ninety minutes. If I didn’t love him so much I would have turned it off, but he’s too good at cussing out kids.