SXSW FILM 2014
By Linc Leifeste | March 18, 2014
Director: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Amanda Anka, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Steve Witting, Anjul Nigam
Without a doubt, Jason Bateman is a funny guy. And smart. And charming. And there’s always been a hint of darkness lurking under that beguiling, comedic charm. With his directorial debut, the wickedly funny Bad Words, Bateman’s edginess and intelligence have risen to the surface to share equal screen time with his impeccable comedic timing and wit.
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is a 40-year old who has found a loophole in the rules of the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee that allows him to compete against the youthful field of contestants. The mere thought of a 40-year old man competing against a roomful of 10-year olds in a spelling bee is enough to bring on smiles and laughter. But when the 40-year old is as foul-mouthed, abusive, vulgar and uninhibited as Trilby, it’s shockingly, side-splittingly funny.
Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) is a reporter who is following Trilby to report his story and who, despite Tribly’s unappealing nature, repeatedly jumps in the sack with him for awkward sex. She’s trying to get to the bottom of Trilby’s motivations but Trilby is tight-lipped. Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) is the no-nonsense Golden Quill director who is intent on finding a way to knock Trilby out of the competition. Her job is on the line as she has a lot of incensed parents who are on the verge of rioting, justifiably so, as Trilby repeatedly verbally eviscerates their children as he knocks them out of the competition one by one. Golden Quill founder, Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall) is opting for a more reserved approach, hoping that by avoiding giving him attention and letting him fail on his own, he’ll soon be forgotten. In what I suspect was an intentional tip of the cap, Hall’s performance in the role of spelling bee host evoked strong recollections of Magnolia.
One of the contestants, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), latches on to Trilby early on as something of a father figure and Trilby, after initially attempting to skewer Chopra, eventually settles into the role in his own inappropriate way, taking the boy out on the town for a hilariously entertaining night of drinking, hot-rodding and prostitutes. And when we’re introduced to Chopra’s father (Anjul Nigam), we see exactly why the boy’s so desperately searching for a father-figure. Their interactions beg the question, much like all of Trilby’s behavior, what exactly is motivating this man-child to travel down this road? I suspect that the answer will split those audiences that haven’t already been turned off by the crude nature of the film, with those folks who are hoping for a completely dark comedy likely to find themselves disappointed by the film’s dark shell serving as coating for a sweet, soft, marshmallowy center. As for me, I think Bateman gets the mix just right and after having found myself tiring of enjoying his brilliant performances in the service of others’ mediocre comedies, I look forward to seeing more of his exploits in the director’s chair.