“The end justifies the mean.” That’s one of the tag lines for Bad Words. And that pretty well sums it up, because you spend the majority of the movie waiting to discover why the main character is such a prick. Pardon my language, but seriously, that’s the most appropriate word to describe Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who forces his way into a kids’ national spelling bee competition by exploiting a loophole in the eligibility rules. The usually-endearing Jason Bateman takes a walk on the dark and crude side to play Trilby in this R-rated comedy that also marks his feature directorial debut. At first, it’s hard to buy the baby-faced Bateman as an evil spelling genius who’s willing to do whatever it takes to sink his young and emotionally-vulnerable competition. But by the third or fourth ‘oh no, he di’int’ moment, bad Bateman becomes believable.
The movie drags a bit at times (even though it’s only 89-minutes long) and is not nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as the trailer might suggest. However, it does have plenty of cringe-worthy, uncomfortable ha-ha moments as Trilby crushes the dreams of ambitious grade-schoolers and pisses off an array of parents and contest officials, including the tournament director, played by Allison Janney. He also engages in periodic ‘hostile sex’ with the journalist seeking to tell his story and uncover his real agenda. And, in spite of himself, he forges a comical, bittersweet alliance with a 10-year-old competitor named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) who seems to find Trilby’s repeated, acerbic brush-offs downright appealing.
Bad Words is rated ‘R’ for crude and sexual content, language, and brief nudity. So don’t mistake it for a ‘kid movie’. It is, however, a disturbingly funny flick for adults with a somewhat unpredictable twist near the end as the audience is clued in to why Trilby is so determined to sabotage the bee, and why he’s such a selfish p-r-i-c-k.