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Director: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall
Currently streaming on: Sky Movies
Words: J. Senior
We all know Jason Bateman, he’s that guy from all those charming American comedies you may have seen, think; Juno, Up in the Air, Dodgeball or Bad Neighbours. Never the leading man, but always there, just about in the foreground keeping us entertained. He’s also on the other hand the glue that binds the hit cult-comedy Arrested Development together. He’s a bit of an oddity, he’s one of those actors that’s too famous for television but rarely gets his moment to shine on the big screen.
That was true until 2013 when Bateman made the calculated move to step behind the camera and direct his first feauture film. Having caught it for the first time last week, Bad Words is really at odds with the more straight-laced American everyman that Bateman usually protrays. It’s obviously an incredibly personal and pensieve film about abandonment, but also questions and pushes, the boundaries of morality.
In short, Bateman’s character Guy Trilby enters Spelling Bees, usually only contested over by children, in order to claim some kind of warped revenge on an unknown character. The technicality that he never passed the Eight Grade in High School means he is still eligible to compete, to the astonishment of children and parents alike. He is aided in this by Jenny (Hahn), a journalist who is travelling around with Guy to get the scoop on the real reasons behind him entering and winning children’s spelling competitions. Whilst being linguistically superior to his opponents he also uses a series of mind games to distract the kids he seeks to defeat. Guy Trilby is for all intents and purposes a horrible person, and Bateman revels in the role. Bad Words never stops to question why either really, like Guy Trilby the film doesn’t give a shit what you think, and I quite like that.
Guy’s past is never really discussed, nor is his future. The film is a snapshot of a man who is single mindedly trying to achieve something futile, and provoking hate in every person he comes across. There are pretty much no depths he wont sink to in order to win. Watching him tell an 8 year old that he’s slept with his mother to psych him out, is genuinely hilarious viewing.
Kathryn Hahn is his perfect foil in this film, she’s also quite similar in terms of her career trajectory. Her most memorable roles (for me anyway) are as a woman who seduces John C. Reilly in Step Brothers and as the political spin-doctor Jen Barclay in Parks & Recreation. Her character is also immoral and desperate. She can’t even look Guy in the eyes when they have sex, and helps him exploit the legislation of the Spelling Bees to gain entry to compete. Their relationship on screen is one of mutual dislike, they both need each other but don’t really care for each other a great deal.
In essence it’s a film about being at your lowest and doing whatever you can to cling to some semblance of happiness. It isn’t big on laughs but the ones it does produce are pretty impressive for their sheer debauchery and lack of restraint. If you can get past the filth and the immorality of it all there is some beauty in there… if you look hard enough.
With his next feature The Family Fang not far around the corner, it will be interesting to see if Jason Bateman can finally make a real artistic impression, and rather than being a supporting player truly make a name for himself. On the evidence of Bad Words he is more than equipped to do so.