By Laurie Coker
At SXSW, after seeing the opening night film, I rushed to the Zach Scott Topher theatre to see Bad Words, starring Jason Bateman, who appeared in person for red carpet and after film Q&A, but as luck would have it, a mistake by a rookie volunteer and some creative line jumpers, over 100 of us were turned away when the theatre filled before the theatre manager assumed it would. Early this week, I had a second opportunity. Going in, I honestly didn’t think I would like Bad Words, and while I was not completely blown away, I enjoyed Bateman’s impeccable comic timing and his ensemble cast. As the title implies, bad words abound in the film, but so does bad behavior, bad attitudes and in some ways bad story telling. All in all, however, in large part because of actor Bateman and Rohan Chand, Bad Words is a decent comedy, with a predictable plot and a silly premise.
Bateman’s character, Guy Trilby, who at forty crashes middle school spelling bees, has a bone to pick with someone, but for most of the film, we do not know with whom. While keeping his agenda secret, he travels, with reporter, Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) and reluctantly befriends Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan), who weasels his way into Guy’s world. Meanwhile, contest organizers work to get Guy out of the contest. All the while, Guy sabotages one contestant and unsuspecting contestant after another, by wholly inappropriate means.
From the onset, Bateman’s comedic rhythm works even if almost everything he blurts out is foul, insulting and inappropriate. Rohan never misses a beat either, keeping up with his seasoned costar with ease. Smiling from ear to ear, his character takes insult after insult. As a parent, I did take some issue over twelve-year –old Chaitanya staying in the hotel alone, allowed by his parents to fraternize with Guy, an obviously odd, abrasive and racist man. This is explained later in the film to a degree, but I still didn’t buy it.
Hahn and Allison Janney, who plays Dr. Bernice Deagan, head of the grand first ever televised, championship of spelling bees, are ideal “straight men” to Guy, but for me this added to the implausibility of the whole affair. Still, I never felt Bateman wants his audience to believe what goes on, but rather, he hope we will simply enjoy the ride, which most people did, include me, to a degree. My male guest like it a good deal, and as I saw it so did most men in the theatre.
Rightly R-rated, Bad Words, is surprisingly funny and even entertaining more because of its strong cast and Bateman’s on screen chemistry with his young co-star. I am placing a C+/B- in my grade book. It is what it is, no more no less and it works.