“Bad Words” Movie Review: Introducing you to Jason Bateman’s best (and so far only) directing job

bad words

It’s amazing that the recently released black comedy Bad Words is going to be a mild success.

Amazing because I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of it, that’s how nonexistent their marketing was (The only reason I stumbled upon it was due to a trip to Universal Studios where they happened to have a very small poster advertising it).

Amazing because the $10 million movie is the story of a vengeful adult who finds a loophole that allows him to participate in—and possibly ruin—a children’s national spelling bee. Not really a film that screams “Must See!” to the masses.

And amazing because the only bankable actor in the film was Jason Bateman…not someone you’d normally associate with carrying a movie.

But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t do exactly that. Bateman gives this cynical character plenty of dimensions, and he somehow pulls off becoming an empathetic figure while simultaneously being reprehensible.

And it turns out he also made his directing debut with Bad Words.

When you see the boring story lines and the blah locations, you’ll agree that he made something above average without much help.

I’m really not sure why Universal/Focus Features came to the decision to spend exactly $179 on worldwide marketing for this movie. If they had bothered to promote it, here are a few marketing pitches I heard they were considering:

  1. “Come watch Jason Bateman do things to prepubescent children that would get a normal man five to 10 in state prison.” (Seriously, there’s some indecent exposure in front of a 10-year-old that Bateman facilitates, and there’s a girl-becoming-a-woman situation that he uses to his advantage.)
  2. “We thought of a hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch that we think we turned into a decent 90-minute movie because we gave the main character a hidden emotional motivation and made him flawed yet somehow likable. Do come see it.”
  3. “Innocent children getting emotionally abused, verbally assaulted and cheated out of achieving their dreams. What’s not to love?

Bateman is basically doing the intellectual version of the grown up who goes balls-to-the-wall in a children’s basketball game. Just swatting the ball away on every shot attempt; firing the ball at a child’s face to “save it from going out of bounds”; trash talking the poor kids off the court.

For a sense of comparison, I’d go so far as to say Bateman’s performance is on par with his funniest acting jobs, but the overall quality of the movie doesn’t touch his high water mark, Horrible Bosses (a movie that has somehow climbed so high on my all-time comedy rankings that it would probably be the runner-up to The Big Lebowski if I was forced to choose one movie that I had to watch every day for the rest of my life).

You should see this movie if: You worship at the altar of Michael Bluth or Jason Bateman; you are so in love with comedy that you can’t wait for something to come out on DVD even if you know the overall story can’t possibly be worth paying for; you enjoy watching children suffer; you can get on board with a movie that depicts the bully as the hero; you want to see an inexperienced 10-year-old actor hold his own in this made-for-adults comedy; and like me, you know that Bateman is on a slow yet steady ascent to being a legitimate A-list comedic actor.

You should not see this movie if: You know you’re going to feel bad for the children; you take the treatment of children so seriously that you can’t even fathom laughing at something bad happening to one of them; you need an airtight plot to enjoy a movie; you need the cliched happy endings and the convenient wrapped up loose ends; you hate Bateman (in which case my girlfriend will gladly recite a list to you called “101 reasons that Jason Bateman is the greatest man on this planet”); you aren’t the type who could realize this is all just scene after scene of SNL skits and yet still enjoy it.

In terms of ranking this movie regardless of where you watch it, I’d have to give it a mere 5.5 on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS). But of course it would be a little higher if we’re just determining whether or not it’s a worthwhile Netflix rental. You will laugh (and gasp) enough to  justify giving Bad Words 90 minutes of your precious time.

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