Director: Jason Bateman
Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
M A V E R I C K. Maverick. (noun) Definition: an unorthodox or independent-minded person. Used in a Paragraph: I doubt Jason Bateman ever intended to be a maverick when he directed and starred in a movie simultaneously. He's not a Tommy Wiseau, a disillusioned and quietly insane auteur who was forced to fund The Room himself because nobody else would. And he's no Lake Bell, who gave herself a starring turn in In A World... because Hollywood was incapable of appreciating her ample talents. No, his is the classic story. An actor who longed to direct but couldn't find someone to do it on, so he filled the role himself.
P R O W E S S. Prowess. (noun) Definition: skill or expertise in a particular activity or field. Used in a Paragraph: It's difficult to say whether this was the best choice for Bad Words or not. We all know that Jason Bateman is a capable comic actor (If you disagree, please watch Arrested Development and don't come back until you've finished. I'll keep an eye on the clock.), but his directing prowess remains unproven. Though there are people in this world who have accomplished great feats directing themselves, Bad Words has the inescapable aura of one man spread too thin, halfheartedly tacked onto a relatively solid screenplay.
G, J-son. R U O K?
H E D O N I S T I C. Hedonistic. (adjective) Definition: engaged in the pursuit of pleasure; sensually self-indulgent. Used in a Paragraph: The film revolves around one Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a hedonistic 40-year-old loser who enters a spelling bee through a legal loophole in order to pursue a personal vendetta. Accompanying him is Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), an intrepid reporter who is supporting his scheme in order to eke a viable story out of him. But Guy delights in alternately tormenting and banging her rather than giving her answers.
L O G O R R H E A. Logorrhea. (noun) Definition: The tendency of talking a great deal. Used in a Paragraph: When Guy meets an extroverted young man named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) with a severe case of logorrhea, an unlikely friendship begins as the kid slowly begins to crack his tough shell. It's all pretty standard indie film blather, really. Guy slowly begins to change except that he really doesn't. Secrets are revealed but they're not that exciting. And an annoyingly vague and unnecessary narration slobbers over the entire thing.
It's telling when somebody this chipper ISN'T the most annoying part of a movie.
A R C H E T Y P E. Archetype. (noun) Definition: a very typical example of a certain person or thing; a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology. Used in a Paragraph: Perhaps the biggest problem for Bad Words is its utter reliance on Bateman as a bitter "antihero." We're supposed to root for him even though he's doing awful things, which is an interesting enough idea to base a film on, but is sorely fumbled here. The antihero archetype lifted into the stratosphere by TV shows like Dexter or Breaking Bad has been highly popular in this decade, but films like this and its closest filmic analogue - 2011's Young Adult - are the first omens of its inevitable decline.
I N S O U C I A N T. Insouciant. (adjective) Definition: showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent. Used in a Paragraph: The bulk of the comedy is derived from this insouciant antihero being homophobic, racist, rapey, criminal, and just about every kind of terrible thing that could conceivably have a Tumblr blog written about it. This formula has worked before, but when you center it around Jason Bateman's competent but uninspiring performance and throw in a crop of spelling bee contestants as just about the only side characters (Allison Janney has a forgettable turn as an administrator and several parents are involved, but other than that there's not many additional bodies), Bad Words turns into naught but a one man show about terrorizing children for an hour and a half. As an audience member this is positively battering.
R A N C O R O U S. Rancorous. (adjective) Definition: characterized by bitterness or resentment. Used in a Paragraph: All in all, thanks to Bateman's being distracted by his directing duties, his failure to bring a spark of humanity to his rancorous character mires the entire film in unpleasantness. Luckily Kathryn Hahn picks up some of the slack, showing off her chops as what is by far the film's brightest comic light. She really seizes her role, giving her character edges but sanding them off in all the right places - reaching the exact tone the rest of the movie fails to access. I've never noticed her in anything before, but she's one to watch if this performance is any indication. But one great female role doesn't make up for the 90 minutes of baseline competence surrounding her.
Get ready for the best segue you've ever seen.
I M B R O G L I O. Imbroglio. (noun) Definition: an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation. Used in a Paragraph: I want you to look up at that screenshot of Kathryn Hahn again. Please notice the beam of wood obscuring the far right portion of the frame. This is but a minor example of a major imbroglio within the film. Bateman has a tendency to frame his characters behind other objects, sometimes creating an entirely distinct frame within the film's natural frame. I'm going to stop saying frame now. The point is, this technique can be used to great effect in pursuit of a thematic goal, but here it merely distracts, drawing attention to how threadbare the plot is. One gets the sense that Bateman knew this was a thing that happened in movies, but hadn't quite pieced together why. Kind of like the truly mortifying amount of slow motion I lathered into my homemade films in high school.
S O P H O M O R I C. Sophomoric. (adjective) Definition: of, relating to, or characteristic of a sophomore; juvenile. Used in a Paragraph: The film isn't all flaws though. I've already mentioned Hahn's terrific supporting performance. And a brief scene with Marzipan the Prostitute (Kimleigh Smith) is hysterical - yet another woman killing it in a small role; if we gather enough of them, maybe we can join forces and beat Hollywood into submission to finally give them leads. And the third act finally reaches a blissful balance between saccharine charm and acrid humor in the movie's best sequence. It's quickly derailed by a moment of sophomoric humor, but hey. At least anything worked out in this lumpier-than-my-grandpa's-disgusting-quinoa-barley-wheat-blend-oatmeal movie.
P L A T I T U D I N O U S. Platitudinous. (adjective) Definition: used too often to be interesting or thoughtful; hackneyed. Used in a Paragraph: Also, the music and cinematography come alive for exactly one pristine moment. So it's not a total bust. But with such a great crop of talent behind it, Bad Words has no excuse to be as platitudinous, bland, and sour as it is.
TL;DR: Bad Words is a disappointment, but it has some lighter moments and a couple great female performances.
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