You love Jason Bateman. Of course you do. His talent, laid back demeanor, and nice guy image in Hollywood has meant a rare staying power for a man who has been in and around Hollywood since he was a 10 year old kid on Little House On The Prairie. From the film Dodgeball to Arrested Development to Horrible Bosses, he has become one of the crowned kings of cult TV and film culture. He has been putting his interest in directing to the test on the small screen since the late 80s, so it was only a matter of time before he moved on to the big screen.
Micro-budgeted Bad Words, which sports an inventively well targeted photographic poster and the spot-on tagline “The end justifies the mean”, was the perfect first feature directing vehicle. Check out my exclusive interview with him for Bad Words and hear “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Jason Bateman”…
Cinema Siren has never been a great fan of mean spirited comedy, but for those who enjoy that harsher side of humor, Jason Bateman does show the well polished skill he has developed directing for TV in his first feature film. He himself says the movie isn’t for everyone, but I was impressed with his commitment to represent a character whose emotion growth and character arc has little movement, but does move. There are funny moments a large percentage of the populous would enjoy, but mostly the film liberally offers very focused and dark cynicism embodied in the lead “Guy Trilby”, which is occasionally lightened by a human ray of sunshine in the form of plucky unabashed 12 year old Chaitanya Chopra played by newcomer Rohan Chand.
It is as if screenwriter Andrew Dodge and director Bateman are railing against the Hayes code some 80 years after it was put in place, a code that required bad guys get their just desserts in the end. The story which focuses on an angry man-child who works a loophole to be a contestant in an national spelling bee meant for 6th graders, abounds with completely politically incorrect scenes the misanthrope bullying children and spewing vitriol. There are both genuinely touching scenes between him and his new 12 year old nerd friend and scenes displaying his resentment expressed in unapologetic cruelty that makes him only nearly entirely unlikeable. Only entirely, and that’s what makes Jason Bateman’s first feature interesting; there are moments the audience almost wants to root for him, even just a little, and then he does something else that reminds one and all of what a complete jerk he remains to the end. The feeling he elicits from those viewing the film is much like what the character Jenny Widgeon (played to pathetic perfection by consummate character actress Kathryn Hahn) feels, who continues going back for sexual interactions with him but hates herself a bit more with each experience.
Bad Words maintains its tone and trajectory in an admirably fearless fashion through its entirety. Does the audience like him or respect him by the end of the film? Probably not, but they might learn to hate him a little less. Much as Cinema Siren dislikes movies with characters of that ilk, this consistently subversive movie mines the disastrous angry inner world of Guy Trilby in a way that is perfect for filmgoers who need cinematic catharsis to keep them from exploding one day at the office and rant-cursing themselves out of their job. So those of you who put your staplers down and go see it, might owe Jason Bateman a grumpy but heartfelt thank you.
For fans of Jason Bateman and/or dark cynical comedy: 3 out of 5 stars