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'Bad Words': Jason Bateman At His Finest

An Nicholson An Nicholson
March 17th, 2014 9:43am EDT

Bad Words

How do you spell awesome? J-A-S-O-N B-A-T-E-M-A-N. I haven't seen a kickass indie film since 2011's '50/50' starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. While 'Bad Words' isn't as brilliant as 'I'm with Cancer' (original title), Jason Bateman is. I have never seen him more invested, more witty, or more deadpan. Watch out, Bill Murray, Jason Bateman's coming for your throne.

'Bad Words,' written by Andrew Dodge and directed by Bateman ('Arrested Development', 'Teen Wolf Too'), surrounds bitter 40-year-old elementary school dropout Guy Trilby (Bateman). After discovering a spelling bee loophole, he makes enemies of every single parent, principal and spelling bee coordinator within a 500-mile radius as he attempts to take the national Spelling Bee championship hosted by industry captain, Dr. Bowman. Like NBC's 'Community,' it takes the 20-something Caucasian slacker, ages him and adds a dark twist.

'Bad Words' shows Bateman at his most effing awesome. His ability to rip off flagrant, ear-flaming insults without flinching is impressive. Although he easily harnesses the same dry sarcasm as his indie predecessor, Bill Murray, he does so while remaining 150% invested. His performance, even more than the script, kept me invested me from start to finish. While Bateman's narrative-oriented directing style wasn't as brilliant as his performance, it was unobtrusive. Although I found Bateman's hollowed out anger captivating, Andrew Dodge did an amazing job writing-wise. I find it hard to believe he's a first time scriptwriter, considering the script's spot on nuance. All the same, 'Bad Words'' #8 position on the 2011 Blacklist, highlights the script's promise and hilarity.

What wasn't brilliant was the script's ongoing Indian and vagina jokes. As an African-American female writer, I can't pretend they didn't make me uncomfortable. Racism isn't funny. Sexism isn't funny. We can say we're in a post-racial society, but we aren't. Do we need to lighten up? Yes. Do we need to mock race? Yes. But, it's dangerous when a Caucasian writer writing to an assumedly majority Caucasian audience only racially mocks and sexually displays the non-White characters (this goes for all races).  We've only moved beyond racism when a writer isn't tempted to make certain jokes and when the audience doesn't find them funny. Halfway through the film I realized the ongoing curry jokes weren't necessary. Plus, I noticed Dodge portrayed the female characters as shrill. Only the female characters underwent sexual body part jokes. Only the female characters received comeuppance by male characters they berated. And, only the male characters actually succeeded in wounding Trilby's pride without receiving a similar sexual cut down. The scene that made me absolutely uncomfortable surrounded a character who looked like me aiming her naked breasts at the camera for twenty seconds (trust me) while jiggling. It was unnecessary and degrading. Why did the only nude scene feature an African-American character? Why was the only African-American character a prostitute? For a script I found mostly hilarious, these shades of gray made me wonder about the writer and our society.

While 'Bad Words' was funny, Jason Bateman was funnier. While you won't get the typical, dark, twisty, 'Magnolia'-style Indie ending, you'll go home happy, especially in Master Wordsmith Master Bateman. Despite his awesome 'Arrested Development,' 'Juno,' 'Smokin Aces,' etc. awesome sauce-ness, his 'Bad Words' performance knocked me for a loop. So, if you watch the film, watch it for him. Yes, the script's funny, excluding the aforementioned bits. Yes, Rohan Chand is so unbelievably cute that he makes your ovaries self-reproduce. Yes, the cast features Kathryn Hahn as the gal friday and Allison Janney channeling her 'Mr. Peabody' role. But, Jason Bateman is so deliciously dirty as the guy, Guy Trilby, that you can't help egging him on. Jason Bateman isn't just fine to look at, he gives a mighty fine show. Trilby's that bad because Bateman's that good.

What's another word for amazing? Bateman. Jason Bateman.

Photo Credits: Focus Films