Bad Words

Sarcastic, sanctimonious, salacious, sly, slight and surprisingly sweet, the black comedy of "Bad Words," starring and directed by Jason Bateman, is high-minded, foul-mouthed good nonsense.

The movie zeros in on the bizarre world of spelling bees, a petri dish of strange behavior between the bright kids and the zealous parents. The filmmaker has surrounded himself with a solid cast of distinctive comic and character actors. He keeps a brisk pace. And he's willingly handed the entire game to the wonderful and wise beyond his 10 years Rohan Chand. Smart move.

The idea of having an adult, Guy Trilby (Bateman), crashing the after-school party as a contestant is almost funny enough. Why a 40-year-old would do such thing — the spelling bee authorities don't make it easy — becomes the mystery to be solved. The words chosen for the contestants to spell are fabulous.

Reporter Jenny Widgeon (Hahn) shadows Guy on the spelling bee circuit. She foots the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to Guy's story, assuming he will ever tell it. Jenny and Guy are also having a fling, though it is difficult to tell who likes whom the least.

Bitter, caustic, depressed, antisocial, an intruder in the bee world, it's as if Guy has never met a human — adult or child — he didn't verbally take down. This is a ball on which Bateman's antihero must balance for most of the film, and he does it remarkably well.

The film jells around the national competition, the Golden Quill. An adorably polite young lad named Chaitanya Chopra (Chand), one of the kid competitors, latches on to Guy and won't let go. Their relationship, with Guy fighting it every step of the way, becomes the heart of "Bad Words." The chemistry between Chand and Bateman is infectious as the words get harder, the field gets smaller and the backstabbing and spelling-bee politicking shifts into high gear.

Unlike the boisterous rest of the film, the end is understated and touching, but Bateman doesn't linger there long. Soon enough Guy is up to no good again.


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