‘Bad Words’ proves a g-o-o-d time for viewers
The fourth season of “Arrested Development” was a pivotal one for its protagonist, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman). Since the show began, Michael played the straight man, the only sane person in a family of mess-ups and thieves. Yet as the show continued, Michael’s façade slowly began to crack, and the latest season showed him as about as unlikable as the other members of his family.
Perhaps Batemen’s “Arrested Development” character was a trial run for Guy Trilby, the profane and borderline nihilistic protagonist of “Bad Words” (2013). Guy, though a 40-year-old man, has decided to exploit various loopholes and compete in a national spelling bee meant for children, to the bafflement of almost every other character. To top it off, Guy is a pretty damn good speller. Along the way, he connects with the reporter covering his antics (Kathryn Hahn) and Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a naïve competitor whom Guy befriends and corrupts.
“Bad Words” is Bateman’s directorial debut, and unlike other actors-turned-directors, he does not do himself any favors in terms of the film’s subject matter or his role. In contrast to Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck, men who often cast themselves as the morally good characters in their films, Bateman fully indulges his id as he brings Guy to life. He is childish, petulant, rude and arrogant — an all-around bad person.
But that’s what makes “Bad Words” so fun to watch — Guy is the perfect balance of jerk and charming rogue. Trying to understand why he subjects himself to public ridicule and vitriol also proves entertaining, though not quite as much as watching him whiz through spelling words pulled from the darkest corners of the English language.
“Bad Words” is a sharp and smart satire packaged in a sports movie format — but “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006) it is not. While Guy is an underdog, he’s not portrayed as a character that should necessarily win. As such, the whole conceit of rooting for the little guy is turned on its head.
Bateman also depicts the spelling bee environment as one that is as cutthroat as an old Western. Parents routinely berate Guy, and the tournament’s organizers (Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall) attempt to stymie his progress at every turn. It is an environment that would not be out of place in the worlds of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (1999) or “Best in Show” (2000). “Bad Words,” however, one-ups the beauty pageant and dog show competition in those films. The opening scene includes an angry mob that chases Guy out of the auditorium where he wins a regional competition and attacks his escape car. There’s something beautifully animalistic about the whole affair.
Speaking of which, the best parts of the film are the interactions between Guy and Chaitanya. Often appearing like a more obscene version of the relationship in “Paper Moon” (1973), Guy takes the studious and sheltered Chaitanya under his wing and introduces him to the joys of cursing, chili dogs and breasts (much to the annoyance of a prostitute).
Chaitanya is not merely a stand-in hardworking contestant. While Guy makes fun of his Indian heritage and hardworking ethos, Chaitanya is a three-dimensional character who serves as the perfect foil to Guy’s jaded and cynical behavior. What is even more surprising is that his development bucks any conventional thinking for where the film may lead.
In the end, the best way to describe “Bad Words” is a raunchy comedy, and it’s pretty g-o-o-d, good.
“Bad Words” is currently playing at the Nugget.