Review: Bad Words – Despicable Bee
In the new film, Bad Words, Jason Bateman plays Guy Trilby, one of the most reprehensible and mean-spirited characters ever put on film. Okay, maybe he’s not as bad as Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, but his biting vitriol and abusiveness towards young children in this film made me very uncomfortable – especially because his actions are played for laughs. When did this behavior become funny?
I have to admit that I’m guilty of giggling at some of the irreverent humor in this film, so I get that I’m on a hypocritical high horse here. But ‘guilty’ is the key word as I don’t think that kids talking in expletives, or kids being given alcohol, or kids interacting with prostitutes is something that should ever be spun in a humorous manner, the way it is in this movie.
Trilby (Bateman) is an enigmatic 40-year-old genius who has found legal loopholes in the Spelling Bee competition circuit and is determined to win the preeminent “National Quill Spelling Bee”, a contest typically reserved for children.
The adult spell-master is sponsored by the “Click and Scroll” media outlet and he is shadowed by their reporter, Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), who wants to document his story but has trouble getting any information about his past; even after trying to entice him with very awkward sex sessions.
The irresponsible Trilby draws the ire of parents and Spelling Bee officials alike, in fact he is pretty much disliked by everyone except a lonely young Indian boy, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), who befriends the jerk despite his hatred of everything and everyone.
During the National Quill competition Guy takes Chaitanya out for nights of debauchery, where, in the real world, he would be locked up for all manner of illegal activities, from kidnapping to child abuse, theft and solicitation. But in Bad Words this is all played as comedy, and while some of it works, for the most part it just makes you feel icky, like an accessory to a crime.
Eventually the truth about Guy’s past comes out and the climatic match of the spelling bee competition comes down to the two reluctant buddies, Trilby and Chopra. The entire story by screenwriter Andrew Dodge is a highly unlikely scenario, but its biggest problem is the misguided treatment of children in a desperate attempt to garner a few laughs.
All that said, I liked the very unlikeable Guy Trilby character in an anti-hero sort of way, and when he strikes out at the pretentious adults around him he is often hilarious. I just wish he had been in another story – any other story that didn’t involve hurting kids.
Bad Words marks the feature film directorial debut for Jason Bateman, who has great comic timing, learned from a lifetime in the film and television industry. He has the potential to make some very good and funny films, but ironically (with poor decision making being the recurring theme of this film) this was a really bad choice for him. Grade: 4/10
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