‘Bad Words,’ Jason Bateman’s directorial debut short on laughs, long on vulgarity

Jason Bateman (center) stars as Guy Trilby in the subversive comedy Bad Words,a Focus Features release. Photo courtesy Focus Features
Jason Bateman (center) stars as Guy Trilby in the subversive comedy Bad Words,a Focus Features release. Photo courtesy Focus Features

Gina Scialabba/The Guardsman

Jason Bateman is a total jerk to kids. That’s essentially the premise of the new dark comedy “Bad Words,” about a 40-year-old man looking to exact revenge on the world, or someone, by infiltrating a child’s spelling bee contest.

Way to stick it to the man, Jason.

After watching Bateman star in and direct this film in his most racist, homophobic, arrogant and sexist role to date, I had to question how he was able to get away with it. Can you really just say anything you want on screen simply because it’s lowbrow humor?

Case in point, referring to his young Indian co-star, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) as “Chai Latte” or “Slum Dog Millionaire” and telling him to “shut his curry hole.” Or making off-hand, choice lesbian jokes at Allison Janney because she plays an authoritative, female figure.

You’ve probably heard the term “black” or “dark” comedy, but what does that really mean?

Basically, it’s a genre that takes a heavy topic such as alcoholism, depression, family dysfunction or murder and satirizes it some way that usually shocks the audience by its audacity.

When it’s done right, a black comedy accomplishes the task of blending the dark and twisted with the hilarious. If you walk out of a dark comedy feeling a little guilty about laughing, the director has done his or her job.

When a dark comedy is just crude with a completely unlikable protagonist on a seemingly pointless journey, that’s where movies like this can fail.

And, indeed, “Bad Words” fails.

Bateman’s biggest challenge is getting us to care about woe-is-me, Guy Trilby.

Guy finds a loophole in the rules of a National Spelling Bee competition and causes an immense amount of trouble for outraged parents, precocious children and contest officials (Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall) by hijacking the stage and insisting he be allowed to compete. But, why?

Reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) is trying to figure that out. She follows him around hoping to “get the scoop” behind his bizarre motivation. Of course, they have awkward sex scenes, and even more awkward conversations, usually ending with Guy just insulting Jenny.

There’s really no stopping Guy or his incredibly foul mouth. It’s not the profanity that’s the issue here. It’s his misanthropic angry demeanor with children as the bull’s eye.

Guy is on a mission; an angry mission, and he won’t stop until he knocks every kid out of the competition, and uses all possible tactics.

During one round of the spelling bee, Guy takes a pair of women’s underwear and gives it to a child on stage, claiming he slept with his mother. All to knock the child out of competition. Why is that funny?

During another round, Guy shames a prepubescent young girl by smearing ketchup on her seat and informing her she just “became a woman.” She runs off the stage in tears. Why is that funny?

Why doesn’t this work?

For one, we have no emotional connection to his character. For most of the film he’s just a middle-age weirdo who might be a pedophile or maybe just a jackass who forgot to take his medication. Either way, no one cares because we only get a one-dimensional glimpse at Guy.

Then, there’s Bateman’s failed attempt at a buddy-duo pairing between himself and one of the contestants, 10-year-old Chaitanya.

Guy manages to systematically corrupt this child—sneaking him into a bar, giving him shots of hard liquor, buying him a visit with a prostitute, going on a shoplifting spree and furnishing him with porn magazines.

Is this really the way older men bond with young boys? By committing several serious felonies, engaging in vulgar, inappropriate sex talk that breaks down numerous boundaries, all the while dehumanizing the child because of his race and labeling it comedy. Sounds disturbingly like a sex predator. Why is that funny?

Oh yeah. This is “dark comedy,” so go on, Guy. Be a child-hating, possibly sexually divergent jackass. We will all laugh and applaud. Maybe this would all be a bit more palatable if the child was at least a teenager, but even then, racism and homophobia are tired comedic devices.

Should you go see this film? A big no unless you want to waste the exorbitant movie ticket price asking yourself, “Why is this funny?”

If you go……

Run Time: 89 Minutes

Genre: Comedy

Opening Date: March 28, 2014

Directed by Jason Bateman

Written by Andrew Dodge


Jason Bateman

Kathryn Hahn

Allison Janney

Rohan Chand

The Guardsman