Bad Words Review
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Jason Bateman is one of Hollywood’s most lovable workhorses. Since making his first TV appearance on Little House on the Prairie at 12 years old, he’s had a steady and generally drama-free career—appearing in TV shows like Valerie and Arrested Development and movies like Juno and Horrible Bosses. Now, more than 30 years later, he steps behind the camera to make his feature-length directorial debut in Bad Words.

In Bad Words, the first-time director also stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old eighth-grade dropout who finds a loophole that allows him to compete in a spelling bee as an adult. Accompanied by his media sponsor, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), he travels to L.A. to compete in the televised national finals, stirring up controversy every step of the way.

Despite the threats from angry parents and outraged organizers, Guy refuses to back down. And as he sets out to sabotage the event—and his young competitors—he also manages to find a friend in Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a bubbly 10-year-old competitor who’s desperate for companionship.

After more than three decades in the business, Bateman clearly has a good grasp on his own style. He’s charming but sarcastic, with a talent for crude comedy. He knows how to deliver a joke with a straight face, and he’s well aware of that fine line between shockingly funny and just plain obnoxious. And that’s what makes Bad Words an outrageously entertaining comedy. It may be foul-mouthed and crude, but it rarely goes too far. At times, Bateman seems to hold back a bit, resulting in a few lulls in the laughs—but his sometimes cautious direction also means that there are just a couple of cringe-worthy moments.

With a different actor in the lead role, the film could have been unbearably offensive. After all, Guy is really a detestable person. He lies, cheats, and cusses his way through the movie, verbally assaulting everyone from his young competitors to his mild-mannered sponsor. Yet Bateman manages to do it all with an impish grin that somehow makes it (almost) okay. Of course, it also helps that Guy isn’t just mindlessly malicious. From the beginning, he hints at a greater purpose, which also helps his case. It’s clear that the character is damaged—that he’s lashing out for a reason—and that slight touch of humanity makes a big difference in the end.

At the same time, though, it’s Guy’s adorable young friend, Chaitanya, who keeps the film grounded. He’s so sweet and innocent—and highly suggestible—that he shines a much-needed ray of sunshine on the other characters’ expletive-laced anger and resentment.

Bad Words obviously isn’t for everyone. It’s crude and bitter and generally obnoxious. But the charming cast does it all with a wink and a knowing smile, resulting in a strangely delightful outrageous comedy.

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