Bad Words is one of those funny little movies that is definitely not for everyone. It has a ridiculous concept, an obnoxious lead character and a charming kid.
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is a 40-year-old proofreader with an encyclopedic knowledge of words. He finds a loophole in the rules and enters a spelling bee in Columbus, Ohio, which he wins. He moves on to the national finals where the story picks up steam.
On the plane ride to LA, Guy meets and immediately disses a young boy of Indian descent (Rohan Chand) who ignores the putdowns and maintains his upbeat attitude.
Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) runs the spelling bee. She is just as upset at Guy’s participation as are the parents of the kids in the bee. Dr. Bowman (the 82-year-old Philip Baker Hall) is the emeritus leader of the bee. He co-hosts the national telecast of the finals with Pete Fowler (Ben Falcone).
Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) is Guy’s sponsor and occasional lover. She has an online news outlet for which she is covering him and his wacky mission. She works to discover his reasons for crashing this party to which he is not welcome.
Other than his talent for spelling, Guy has no obvious redeeming social values. He is an absolute dick. He is rude to everyone: the kids, their parents, Jenny, the hotel staff, etc.
Eventually Guy becomes a friend to the young boy with the perky spirit. He takes him out for a night of totally inappropriate debauchery. Is sabotage his ulterior motive?
Bad Words delivers a few big laughs and several chuckles. Guy’s bad behavior, especially the terrible things he says to people, is often shockingly impolite. An actor less likeable than Jason Bateman would offend greatly. Guy is a total jerk but because it’s Bateman in the role, audiences are more likely to cut him a break.
Bad Words is Bateman’s competent debut as a director. The script is by rookie Andrew Dodge.
Viewers who appreciate its outrageous story and its mean-spirited humor have already championed this film. There are critic blurbs galore. But Bad Words is a movie with a central character who is hard to embrace and cheer for. That, for me, makes this movie hard to like. See Bad Words at your own risk.