Last year we saw the directorial debut of one of cinema’s A-list actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is one of the finest performers currently working and we found out that he has a serious knack for film making as well. This year, we find another actor taking to the director’s chair for the first time and I don’t think that his film making career will end here.
“Bad Words” is Jason Bateman’s directorial debut and it’s a pretty fine one at that. The story of a 40 year-old man entering a children’s spelling bee is only strengthened by his ability to direct his fellow actors, especially the young Rohan Chand, who plays the lovable Chaitanya, a fellow bee contender who Bateman’s Guy Trilby befriends. The rest of the fairly notable cast gives fine performances to create a witty and quirky look into the world of children’s spelling bees and the commitment these kids put into it.
The film begins with Bateman giving a voice-over, asking himself why he did all of this. This voice-over comes in a few more times and while some may find this storytelling technique to be a bit obnoxious, I saw it as an insightful and interesting way to show what’s going on in this man’s head. It also begins to build a mystery around his true intentions for signing up for this kiddie competition which we find out later on in a surprising reveal. After this voice-over we’re treated to Bateman’s first competition where he wins, but not without some controversy. He is then chased out of the school by the parents who continue to throw things at him and spit at him even after he begins to speed away in his car. A man even throws a chair at the windshield, breaking it out of anger. A funny scene that is also very well edited and crafted to create an atmosphere that the rest of the film revolves around. You really shouldn’t mess with spelling bee parents.
While Bateman’s direction is pretty grand for a first timer, it’s his performance that struck the largest chord. Jason Bateman is a great actor and should be appreciated as such. I find Bateman to be one of the most underrated actors out there, and this movie depicts exactly why. He has this witty charm that you can’t ignore and this intriguing vulgarity that makes you interested in whatever he is going to say next. He is one of the wittiest characters put on screen this year and always has a snappy, and hilarious, comeback for everything that comes his way. From comparing a woman’s privates to an elephant trunk to not being even remotely afraid to call the children the most vulgar names imaginable, you can’t help but laugh in spite of yourself.
With all of the vulgarity and humor, there has to be some drama. The emotional tropes that are attempted throughout the film are hit or miss, but the ones that hit are, surprisingly, fairly heartfelt and touching. The relationship between Bateman and Chaitanya is especially sweet thanks to some fine chemistry between the two actors which only make the hilariously amoral shenanigans they get into even more amusing.
“Bad Words” can be a bit overly amoral and vulgar for some people’s taste, even for mine at times, but Bateman gives a fantastic performance and shows he has some directing talent. It occasionally depicts things that will just leave you scratching you head or shaking it in embarrassment for witnessing the occurrence. It does have a soft center though and is definitely worth a watch.