Considering Jason Bateman has been acting for more than 30 years, it’s surprising it has taken him so long to sit down in the director’s chair. While having directed a handful of TV shows, including his own Arrested Development, here he certainly brings his A-game to Bad Words, his big screen directorial debut. Armed with a rapid-fire approach, he brings his one-note asshole appeal in the starring role as well. Along with screenwriter Andrew Dodge’s sophomore screenplay, Bateman bounces from one outlandishly H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S episode to the next.
Bateman plays our anti-hero of sorts, Guy Trilby, who has discovered a loophole in the National Quill Spelling Bee. Even being 40 years old, Guy never completed the eighth grade, allowing him to enter the competition. Tagging along is reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), trying to find the scoop on what has made Guy decide to enter in the first place.
Guy won’t spill the beans but does make friends with an arch nemesis in young Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), left alone by his father at the contestants’ hotel. Guy soon finds himself taking a liking to the little guy, taking him out for food, alcohol, and showing him his first breasts. Meanwhile, Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) sets out to stop Guy from winning at any cost to save the face of President Dr. Bowman’s (Philip Baker Hall) precious Golden Quill.
From period jokes to enough racial slurs to make the most seasoned audience member blush, Bad Words is an equal opportunity offender. You have to go as far as the film does at times and can never pull any punches. This may be the most hilariously offensive man-child relationship since Bad Santa. Thankfully, Bateman lets the film go balls out and never tries to cram a sudden change of heart to Guy’s plan allowing the shenanigans to escalate to obscene measures. While his directing choices may be questionable here and there — slow-motion shots are used more than necessary — Bateman keeps things roaring along and the short runtime makes sure that the film never wears out its welcome.
Beyond bawdy, but never insulting to its audience, Bad Words keeps Bateman’s moment in the spotlight from getting tarnished. Considering the amount of black comedies he’s been starring in lately — Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief — he needs to step behind the camera more often. He definitely knows when to keep himself reigned in, letting the rest of the cast have as many moments to shine; including the wide-eyed Chand who looks like he’s having the time of his life. Bad Words isn’t out to change the face of comedy, but it will certainly make your face hurt from laughing as hard and often as it does.
Photo courtesy Focus Features