'Bad Words' speaks volumes from beginning to end

The Fresno BeeMarch 26, 2014 

Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with "Bad Words." Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old who finds a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee and decides to cause trouble by hijacking the competition.


Your word is "splendiferous."

Could you use it in a sentence?

"Bad Words," the new dark comedy from first-time director Jason Bateman, is splendiferous.

It's time to break out the thesaurus to find enough accolade adjectives to describe this comedy, which has an adult competing in a spelling bee for elementary school students.

Along with directing, Bateman plays Guy Trilby, the adult speller who enters the competition with a personal mission.

Trilby finds a loophole in the rules of a national spelling bee that allows him to compete. This not only makes the promoters of the bee mad, it makes Trilby the target of all the parents. Even when the director of the tournament (Allison Janney) rigs the competition to give the adult speller all of the toughest words, he keeps spelling his way through each round.

REVIEW: "Bad Words" speaks volumes from beginning to end

The only thing that might trip him up is Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a young speller who trains under strict rules of his dominating father. Trilby puts aside his spelling bee vendetta in an attempt to show his young competitor that there's more to life than memorizing pages of words.

In the world of politically incorrect movies, you can put this film alongside "Bad Santa." The script by Andrew Dodge is filled with cringe moments from the many verbal, emotional and social attacks on the young spellers. But those moments are hilarious.

During one round, Trilby makes a competitor fall apart by convincing him he spent the night with his mother. A female contestant is tricked into believing she faces an incredibly embarrassing moment if she makes her way to the microphone to spell her word.

In any other circumstance, these actions would be cruel and mean. OK, they are still cruel and mean.

But the wickedly dark humor stays at a high level from beginning to end. There is a slightly schmaltzy ending, but it doesn't distract from the onslaught of dark comedy.

Bateman shows great skill as a director as he mixes in light moments to keep the movie from collapsing into a black hole of comedy. His pacing is just right to make the stagnant world of a spelling bee come across as exciting. He also allows the supporting cast — especially the impressive find of Rohan — to shine.

Bateman shows tremendous courage by selecting this as his feature film debut. When a film wades so deep into political incorrectness, there is a good chance of getting in over your head. He has a knack for telling a good story and making it OK to laugh at the most improper situations.

How do you spell relief from all of the bad comedies? B-A-D W-O-R-D-S.

Movie review

"Bad Words," rated R for language, adult situations. Stars Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Allison Janney, Kathryn Hahn. Directed by Jason Bateman. Running time: 89 minutes. Grade: A-

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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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