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Bad Words


This article was published March 28, 2014 at 2:00 a.m.

Bad Words is a movie about a contemptible individual who refuses to grow up and has unrepentantly malicious goals. This guy is so depraved that he’s willing to emotionally traumatize children to gain what he wants.

Curiously, the movie that features the contemptible Guy Trilby (director and star Jason Bateman) is also a guilty delight that makes viewers accessories to his offenses.

Guy is determined to be the national spelling bee champion. The goal in itself isn’t that outrageous, but it is highly unusual for a 40-year-old. He has developed his verbal gymnastics despite the fact that his schooling ended with eighth grade. As a result, he’s eligible to compete even though these events are clearly intended for youngsters.

Simply by being onstage, Guy manages to offend every parent with a kid in the competition. They’d hate him even more if they knew about the mind games he played with their offspring’s delicate psyches to ensure that he’ll win. What’s especially infuriating is that even when the judges and the organizers cheat by sticking Guy with the most obscure, polysyllabic words imaginable, he still walks away with trophies (and death threats from angry parents).

Because Guy’s story is as bizarre as it is aggravating, it’s easy to see why an ambitious blogger named Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) is covering him. It’s certainly not because he’s a likable guy. He verbally assaults anyone who makes the mistake of getting in his orbit, and he manages to string Jenny along on the information and romantic fronts.

When he gets to the nationals, Guy finally encounters an obstacle that could stop his mad quest - a short, enthusiastic speller named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). Despite his warm personality and intellectual gifts, Chaitanya is an easy mark for bullies and a social misfit. Naturally, Guy can identify with him and winds up getting closer to the young overachiever than his demanding parents do.

Yes, Guy is about the worst influence a child could hope not to encounter, but Chaitanya has an almost magical gift for making Guy lose his self-absorption. This may doom Guy’s plans (he has more than trophies in mind here), but it becomes oddly endearing to see him treat the lad with a kindness he has shown nobody else.

Similarly, Chand seems to have the same effect on Bateman’s directing and the audience. Bateman has certainly found a plum role for himself in Andrew Dodge’s script, but he wisely spotlights Chand’s performance any time he can. More than a generic cute kid, Chand carries every scene he’s in. He can play a broad range of emotions effortlessly and is charming enough to make viewers want to adopt Chaitanya even when he misbehaves.

Bad Words 86 Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Amanda Anka, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Beth Grant Director: Jason Bateman Rating: R, for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity Running time: 89 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 03/28/2014

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