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Bad Words

In his adult career, Jason Bateman has made a career out of playing the cuddly schlemiel, mostly in supporting parts. In the first film he has also directed, he is not that character. Not by a long shot.

Guy Trilby is 40, which is a good 27 years older than most of the contestants he is competing against in the Golden Quills national spelling bee competition. The Quills officials aren’t happy about his participation, but he’s found a loophole to exploit: The contest is open to anyone who has not graduated eighth grade. And while Trilby is a very smart guy, making a living as a proofreader, a bad childhood found him out of school by the eighth grade.

Why he wants to win the spelling bee is the mystery at the heart of the movie. Does he mind that everyone involved, from the much shorter contestants sitting next to him to their outraged parents to the Quills officials desperately trying to find a way to get rid of him, hates his guts? Not at all. He returns every volley tenfold.

In the mold of Bad Santa, Bad Words is an often hilarious comedy about an outsider happily laying waste to an utterly inoffensive target. As played with trademark understatement by Bateman, Trilby is very smart, very angry, and willing to offend everyone who gets in his way. Even the reporter traveling with him (Kathryn Hahn) is unable to figure out what makes him tick, try as she might. She has issues of her own, leading to the most unfriendly consensual sex scene I’ve ever seen.

When the plot puts Trilby up against a preposterously cute and good-natured Indian-American boy named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), it’s not hard to see where the film will go, after Trilby gets down running through his store of anti-Asian insults. Make no mistake, Bad Words is designed to give you a context in which to enjoy what is inevitably referred to as “politically incorrect” humor, and if you laugh uncomfortably, you still laugh. Andrew Dodge’s script does a good job of twisting its inevitable ending, and with letting Trilby go as far out as he can before softening him.

Watch the trailer for Bad Words

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