'Bad Words' review: Only good words for Bateman film

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Rating

3.5 Stars3.5/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

It may be profane, insulting, weird and twisted, but I have only good words for Bad Words. In fact, actor-director Jason Bateman’s strange little movie is quite wonderful.

Another fact: This is Bateman’s feature film directorial debut. While he had already honed his directing craft on American television, including an episode of Arrested Development, Bad Words is impressive for its cocksure approach, tight editing and impressive execution. I want to see what else this dude can do in the future, both behind and in front of the camera.

Remarkably, Bad Words is based on a script by another first-timer, screenwriter Andrew Dodge. The story Dodge concocted is unique. It also could have been embarrassing if the wrong director and star got their hands on it, but Bateman turned out to be the perfect person to interpret it, in both capacities.

Bateman fearlessly plays a mean-spirited, 40-year-old, word-savvy copy editor who is still stung by losing a spelling bee when he was a child. So he finds a loophole in the rules and enters himself in a series of bees designed to get him to the national finals. While he is reluctant to reveal much to her, he is trailed by a reporter who is played with wit and an offbeat sensuality by Kathryn Hahn (noted for her recurring role on Parks and Recreation). She wants to know what his motives really are. Eventually, we will all find out.

The kooky relationship between Bateman and Hahn fuels the film’s lunge from one event to another. Bateman’s rude insults of other contestants — all of them prepubescent children — provides the oomph. Bateman also dishes out cruel comments to parents who confront him for his behaviour, and for competing with their kids.

This is where Bad Words earns its title: Just like the characters in a Seth MacFarlane production, Bateman’s angry man knows no limits. There is your taste test. If you find MacFarlane’s Family Guy so offensive you cannot watch, then Bad Words is going to be a turn-off. If the opposite is true, then jump in.

Not that Bad Words has any great weight or importance as a satire. It is small in scale and intimate in its impact. But it works like a punch to the gut, when you get all the information you need.

Meanwhile, in the playing out of the thing, there is a lot to like. Bateman finds himself in an unusual and totally innocent friendship with one of his competitors, an American kid with South Asian heritage. With much heart — something he could not show in the Adam Sandler farce Jack and Jill (2011) — Rohan Chand plays the role of his young life. He matches Bateman beat-for-beat, giving Bateman softer grace notes that lighten the character. That helps us empathize and root for both of them.

Other key roles are played by Philip Baker Hall and Allison Janney. Bateman is generous with the other actors, even when he intends to upstage them with delicious insults at the end of conversations.

In the end, I only have four more words about Bad Words: See the damn thing!

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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