Bad Words Is H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S
Guy Trilby is a 40-year-old who finds a loophole in the rules of The Golden Quill national spelling bee and decides to cause trouble by hijacking the competition. Contest officials, outraged parents and overly ambitious eighth graders are no match for Guy as he ruthlessly crushes their dreams of victory and fame. As a reporter attempts to discover his true motivation, Guy finds himself forging an unlikely alliance with a competitor: awkward 10-year-old Chaitanya who is completely unfazed by Guy’s take-no-prisoners approach to life.
Jason Bateman makes his feature directorial debut with the comedy Bad Words, in which he also stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who, through a loophole in the rules — he never graduated from eighth grade — enters into a national spelling bee competition, determined to win at all costs. Trilby is not the usual dreamer that you find in most comedies, but an angry personality out for revenge, although why isn’t answered until almost the end. He is verbally abusive and deliberately tricks and eliminates his young competition, sometimes in cruel ways.
Most of Bad Words takes place over the course of a weekend competition, played out in several rounds, to determine the national champion. Guy arrives with Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), an online journalist who shadows him on the spelling bee circuit. She foots the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to Guy’s story, assuming he will ever tell it. Jenny and Guy are also having a fling, though it is difficult to tell who likes whom the least.
The film jells around the national competition, the Golden Quill. It is run by the devious Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) and headed by the imperious Dr. Bowman (Phillip Baker Hall). They do their best to disqualify him, but Guy knows exactly how to skirt the rules.
An adorably polite 10-year-old spelling phenom named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), an Indian-American competitor with a stereotypically demanding and distant father, latches on to Guy and won’t let go. He seems impervious to Guy’s foulmouthed insults and just wants to be friends with his middle-aged competitor. No amount of racial taunts directed his way can change his mind. The kid does manage to become sort of a sidekick, an accessory to Guy’s late-night carousing and heartless pranks on strangers. Guy feeds Chaitanya shots, takes him out for ice cream and, when the kid asserts that only some women have nipples, pays a woman named Marzipan to prove otherwise. Until a rift puts the boy and his would-be friend at odds, and by this time the spelling bee title is on the line.
The chemistry between Chand and Bateman is infectious as the words get harder, the field gets smaller and the backstabbing and spelling-bee politicking shift into high gear.
How many heels does it get?
The movie zeros in on the bizarre world of spelling bees with the bright kids and the zealous parents. At heart, Bad Words is a nice little concoction about a fellow walking around with a deep emotional wound, who heals it, not by confronting the source of his troubles, but by healing a similar wound in someone else. The one flaw comes from first-time screenwriter Andrew Dodge who resorts to putting rude racist jibes in Trilby’s mouth (“Shut your curry hole” is one of the more benign). This is high-minded, foul-mouthed good nonsense. Rated R. Opens Mar. 21, 2014.
My rating: 4 out of 5 Heels
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.