Jason Bateman seems like he could easily be a bit of a jackass; not necessarily because he carries a rude demeanor but simply because he seems to expect a lot out of those he comes into contact with and doesn't care to waste his time if the other party isn't up to task on an objective the actor has in his sights. In his latest film, Bad Words, Bateman had many objectives on the docket he wanted to accomplish for besides just acting in and producing the film he has also made his directorial debut with the project and it seems right in line with the kind of dry, narcissistic wit that has infused his characters since taking the role of Michael Bluth in 2003. While Mr. Bluth might not necessarily be classified as a narcissistic presence what he did best for Bateman's career was to give him the everyman status a la Paul Rudd while supplying an explicitly dry style that was so prominent in his delivery and tone that he was given the ability to relate to the inner-most thoughts and complaints that those of the same mind set have against the different annoyances of society and family that he expanded on in a weekly series. While his character in Bad Words, Guy Trilby, is explicitly more narcissistic than Michael Bluth he comes from the same point of view where he has tried to comply his entire life with the rules of what define a moral and corjile society, but has finally decided to go off the rails and simply say and do whatever he feels like doing. Obviously, there was a breaking point for Trilby and that moment, or secret as the film tends to keep it, is what spurns this whole ridiculous and convoluted situation into being. The upside? Trilby knows how ludicrous and fittingly childish his actions are, but he simply cannot help himself. He sees the outcome of his run at beating out the aspiring children of a typically friendly spelling bee as the only way to come to terms with a certain event in his past and while he may be right in wanting (and deserving) some kind of vindication for what he experienced he still realizes what he's doing isn't right or fair in any sense of the word. It is in this caveat of what is at first presented as a purely smug mask that we come to sympathize with Trilby which gives us reason to not completely be offended by him and his movie while the outer shell he perpetrates is reason to divert any and all expectation.

Jane (Kathryn Hahn) and Guy (Jason Bateman) exchange a few Bad Words.
The screenplay from first time screenwriter Andrew Dodge takes on the familiar tropes of a man lost on a path to nowhere who reluctantly takes on the young apprentice that may help him see the error of his ways. This isn't, again, as explicitly obvious as it sounds given the outlandish quality of the set-up but the story, given its thin premise and short running time, seemed to need to find a familiar set of genre elements to work around so that Bateman and his team could actually produce a feature that stood on its own two legs. Otherwise, this would make an extremely entertaining set of shorts or sketches where Guy Trilby would have been a classic character in the caverns of Saturday Night Live characters, but lucky for us this is a much better film version of that character than we would have received were SNL actually his origins. We are first introduced to Trilby as he stands waiting for a regional competition to begin, his headphones in, his face clearly annoyed when a father of one of the competitors attempts to strike up a conversation with him. Trilby isn't having it, he isn't interested in making friends, learning the ins and outs of the spelling bee culture or even taking pity on some of his fellow, much younger adversaries when he decides to take the stage and start trash talking. It is all a part of his plan, you see, he never graduated the eighth grade which technically makes him eligible to compete and he has the sponsorship of a nationally recognized media outlet in the form of Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) whose online news site has agreed to sponsor Trilby's efforts to take home the grand prize at nationals due to nothing more than it is such a ridiculous story it is sure to become national news. The film never bothers with this avenue though, but instead Bateman keeps his camera and his character focused on the task at hand. Trilby is bound and determined to make a statement and he won't let the not friends, but with benefits relationship he's developed with Jenny nor the adorable naggings of fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) deter him from that end goal.

What makes Bad Words more than your standard Hollywood comedy is what also gives it the more or less deflated sense that despite the look and feel of difference the basic outline is something we've seen one too many times before. That said, I realize the impossibility of coming up with something completely original, especially in comedy anymore, but I at least hoped that in giving Bateman free reign, free creative control and armed with as wild a concept as this (which is enough to make you chuckle by the description alone) that he may actually go balls to the wall and deliver a no holds barred attack on what irritated him most with any number of social issues. Bateman is a father, that is a well known fact, and he has no doubt had plenty of experiences with fellow parents, school systems and countless other mundane and suburban situations just waiting to be criticized and satirized, yet for all the insults hurled and all the bad language and immoral decisions made here I never really felt the bite of the themes I felt audiences were expected to. It is beyond cynical, but wants to be redeeming and while, as I pointed out earlier, this gives the film a free pass in not letting the audience completely hate our main character I almost wish we did because for as much as we sometimes hate people for being so particular and calling out our flaws or our idiocies much of the time we can learn a thing or two from their honesty and the way they lead their life. It is easy to dismiss Guy Trilby as a sad, pathetic loser who had nothing better to do than enter a children's spelling bee out of nothing more than the pure hatred of ruining the dreams of those around him and the parents in the crowd who put all of their own hopes and dreams into whatever their child wants to succeed at, while giving him unbridled joy, but unfortunately Bateman and crew would likely be criticized more than praised if they actually allowed that to be the case. Bateman and Dodge are sure to make Trilby more than this by giving him a justifiable back story even if his reasoning isn't well though out. While I was able to go along with this on the pure thrill of watching Bateman deliver burn after burn to unsuspecting victims and innocent children there was never enough of them that stung consistently or enough backbone going the other way to where when Dodge tries to bring around a weight to the character and we begin to see the full picture it feels unearned.

Guy finds an unexpected friend in Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) as they are up to no good.
Don't get me wrong, Bad Words is a fine little picture that doesn't overstay its welcome and has a few moments of inspired greatness, but overall it just wasn't the gut-busting laugh factory I expected or hoped it to be. Maybe it is that my expectations for what I thought Bateman would deliver have diluted me from seeing the merit in what he has, and by all accounts, wanted to make. Still, I can't help but feel this could have been more, and very easily. It is clear Bateman had a vision though and even if it didn't come together in the coherent form that he originally envisioned in his mind it still comes across with a very defined style and look that give the self-satisfied attitude of the main character the sense of entitlement he feels he deserves while keeping the look of the film rather drab and dingy, as we imagine Trilby's world actually is. As Trilby, Bateman does his normal thing, but with that extra hint of narcissism that pushes his insults just a little further and help them land even better than you might have imagined given his penchant for perfect comedic timing displayed prominently over the past decade or so. The real star of the show though is Chand who not only brings the always hilarious factor of kids saying the darnedest things to the table, but also infuses the proceedings with enough of a charming persona that the trope of isolated asshole finding a connection in the most unexpected of places doesn't really get caught up on the fact that it is just that. I enjoyed Bad Words for what it was and found it pleasing to see great character actors such as Kathryn Hahn (one day she will get her starring role!), Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Rachael Harris and of course Philip Baker Hall do their thing with their natural gravitas that unavoidably brings more to the table than they clearly started out with, but regardless of what could have been the film is still a rather solid product and one that hits its mark and made me laugh more often than not, and for that, I can forgive Bateman for not meeting my own personal expectations and just hope he has more to come that proves this truly was nothing more than a starting point.


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