Sunday, September 28, 2014

Making bad decisions is nothing new to me.

Communication Arts. That's what the adults call the class I've spent my career teaching (I'm sure the kids have another way of putting it). For me, it's simply a class about words. Carefully chosen words, at that. And while it feels like I spend the majority of my time and effort on poorly chosen ones instead, there's a time of year where students genuinely make make me happy, no - ecstatic, halcyonic or perhaps even cock-a-hoop to be a teacher: The National Spelling Bee. While it doesn't hurt that the Bee is in the last two weeks of the school year (ah, the glory of late-May), what I really love is the fact that for a few days out of the year smart kids are celebrated. 

I almost wish I could join in.

Bad Words, the directorial debut of Jason Bateman, tells the story of a 40 year-old man doing just that - competing in the National Spelling Bee. While my adoration of the Bee comes from smart kids doing smart things (the exception in these parts), Bateman's Guy Trilby is motivated by something far less noble. He wants to f--king win it. F--k kids. All of them.

While the blunt, obscenity-laden tirades provide much of the comedy early on, this aspect of the film seems a little derivative, honestly. It's not to say that it doesn't work (I might have shed a tear or two laughing), it just felt like Bateman was more often than not channeling his inner Melissa McCarthy (his co-star from the vastly inferior Identity Thief [review]).And judging by how her last film fared, mentioning her shtick may be quite the deal-breaker.

Fear not, as any missteps in the naughty bits are completely forgivable due to the relationship Guy develops with one his competitors, Bee-favorite Chaitanya Chopra (played by the adorably badass Rohan Chand). The chemistry between the free-wheeling a-hole Guy and the infinitely curious kid, was easily my favorite part of the film.Guy, by being the worst adult on the planet, ends up teaching the kid there's more to life than studying and doing what Dad says (part of this lesson involves a big-tittied hooker, naturally). And in return, Chaitanya shows Guy that being a rotten f--ker isn't his only option. Wait, what?

At 89 minutes, Bad Words is an easy recommendation. It's crass, overly-ridiculous, and somewhat oft-putting at times (Guy and Jenny's relationship is the worst), but like any R-rated comedy these days, it's got heart. Sure, setting a film at the National Spelling Bee probably only excites me and a handful of van-driving weirdos, but the absurd scenario is perfect for dark-comedy. The laughs are steady, the characters endearing and Bateman keeps the film moving on both sides of the camera.

One of the last vocabulary words I give my students is the noun floccinaucinihilipilification. I usually just give it for shock value, but they always get into learning how to spell it. Could I have the definition, please? The estimation of something as valueless. Could you use it in a sentence? The Yays and Boos, along with the entirety of Two Dollar Cinema is a clear example of...

I feel like this just might be the best picture ever.

  • You may initially balk at the idea of a 40 year-old man entering the National Spelling Bee, but the loophole he exploits is quite solid.
  • The kid pesters Guy about his favorite word, to which Guy snaps something about autofellatio. Hmm. Part of speech please?
  • I think we might get the best delivery of the word 'motherf--ker' in cinematic history. Top 3 anyway...
  • There's a point where the movie smoothly transitions into the public television broadcast of the Bee that I certainly appreciated. Seeing someone hit with a chair is always funny, but when it's destroys the serenity of refined public television? That's gold, Jerry. Gold!
  • The psych-outs. Not since BASEketball the emotional abuse of an opponent been handled so well. Handing a kid his mom's panties during the Bee? That's better than chewing on tinfoil.
  • I learned something (always a Yay). The only word with all the vowels in alphabetical order? It's...nevermind. You probably aren't interested.
  • We all like a good montage, right? Right. Here, we get a beautiful look things debauch. Even better? It's set to the Beastie Boys.
  • Are you familiar with the phrase 'eatin' ain't cheatin'?'
  • And finally, the ending. Not only the gesture but the way he gets it done. What a good Guy.
I think they should make the Miss America pageant a Spelling Bee.
Guy's with me on this one. I know it.
  • Man, I've had some shitty hotel rooms, but Guy's just might be the worst ever.
  • Speaking of hotel rooms, the kid gets his own? Hmm...
  • I love making fun of kids. It's the best. But what Guy does to a certain female competitor? Unbelievable. 
  • Whoa, whoa, whoa. I know that 90% of this movie is absurd, but a contestant goes out on the word conjecture? I'm not buying it.
  • And finally, even though it's par for the course in these types of movies, I've always hated that moment where the rotten adult gets the chance to show that they're not really so bad after all and they actually go and do something worse. You know they'll redeem themselves eventually, but in that one moment, it's like, you know what? F--k this guy. Or, Guy.
You know, I actually had to give a Spelling Bee pre-test this past week and I have to say, two of the words completely baffled me. The first, not that it was hard to spell, was whiskery. Has anyone ever used this word before? Really? Whiskery!? The other one, the final word on the test, was panacea. I had never even heard of it, and was worried I couldn't even pronounce it correctly. 

As I read them out loud, I heard one kid say, these words are stupid. 

At least they weren't bad.


  1. Somehow I haven't heard of this one. Sounds interesting, though. And yeah, most movies are vastly superior to Identity Thief.

    1. Ha. Yeah, Identity Thief was essentially a giant turd...but I can't help but love me some Bateman. I don't think I've ever not liked the guy. Give it a spin and let me know what you thought...

  2. Great review! I love how you compared the psych-outs to BASEketball. I couldn't agree more. I caught this in theaters and enjoyed it then.

    1. Thanks! Whoa, the theaters? You definitely get the small stuff then, which is very awesome.

      BASEketball is one of my favorite movies from college. Soooooo stupid/brilliant.

  3. This was a pretty funny one. Nothing stand out but I agree with everything you've said. I really like Kathryn Hahn but her role in this kind of sucked. I loved seeing Jason Bateman leave his straight man/neurotic role that he's been pigeon holed in behind.

    1. I think that's totally fair. Nothing really GREAT!, but I might argue that the little kid is pretty f--king rad, though.

      As for Hahn...yeah. Not much going on here.

      Great point about Bateman, too. I guess it took him being the director to finally not play the straight man.