Monday, March 31, 2014

bateman's "bad words"

Throwing caution to the wind, the affable actor Jason Bateman makes an auspicious directorial debut with a gleefully heartless little comedy titled "Bad Words," in which he admirably aims to offend just about everyone while neatly avoiding any toxicity that might come with so dubious a goal.

Good for him.

Given my distaste for political correctness, I enjoyed this film immensely.  And I hasten to remind those self-designated hall monitors among us that being offensive (to any group) or insensitive or just plain rude is not against any known law, so far as I know. So chill.

Set in the child-dominated world of adult-controlled spelling bees, "Bad Words" is about one Guy Trilby (terrific name), a smug man of about 40 who, for seemingly mean-spirited reasons, crashes a regional spelling bee, assaulting anyone who confronts him (regardless of age, gender or color) with utter mendacity. Like most bullies, Trilby is an impervious opponent.

Bateman is a double-threat here, having cast himself as Trilby, and the casting is spot-on:  As a comic actor, Bateman has proven to be something of fluent, offhand wordsmith and this role - Trilby is incorrigibly, ingeniously dishonest and has jaw-dropping foul mouth - lets him loose on a binge of glibness and transgressions that know no boundaries.

Another director might have cast Jim Carrey in the role and there's no doubt that Carrey could have pulled it off with ease.  Bateman doesn't share Carrey's affinity for manic outbursts.  His persona is much more calm. And that difference makes his Guy Trilby even more unsettling.

This character's contempt for children have prompted some to liken "Bad Words" with Terry Zwigoff's comparably profane "Bad Santa" (2003), but the inspiration for both Zwigoff's film and this one goes back even further - to the movies that W.C. Fields  made with director Edward Cline.

Bateman keeps up the comic fury and vitriol until, alas, the very end when either he or the studio felt compelled to explain Trilby's bad behavior with a back story that reduces the character in way I could have never imagined, given what preceded it.  Yes, Guy Trilby can make small children squirm and cry but that's because he's been there, see?  Oy.
  Credit: Focus Features


Brian said...

Joe- Gotta say it, though only your inspiration makes it possible: "Bad Words" is one of those movies that ends up as a quirky minor classic because the audience is basically told that everything they’ve seen is a lie. Hence, the ending.

jeffrey c. said...

I don't like movies that end as frauds, even if what precedes them is great. I feel toyed with and violated.

joe baltake said...

Have a look before you scoff.

Ari said...

"Bad Words" surprised me. For me, it was a deceptively light journey taken by a man from dishonesty to enlightenment. The ending didn't both me at all. In fact, I found it kind of heartbreaking.

Alex said...

I guess I should give it another chance some day. This film simply didn’t make me laugh.