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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Bad Words’ spells out mediocrity


    Aggregate Films

    Actor Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with a comedy about an adult competing in children’s spelling bees. Despite some laughs and a relatively intriguing, if not ludicrous, premise “Bad Words” takes too many missteps to elicit writing many good words about it.

    Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is a grown man hailing from Columbus, Ohio, on a slightly juvenile, ill-fitting mission: to win the National Quill Spelling Bee, a competition intended for children who have not finished eighth grade, much like its real world counterpart the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

    Trilby has the dubious yet fortunate distinction of having not completed the eighth grade, and through this loophole, he can compete against kids who are a quarter his age. Accompanying him is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist trying to find out why an adult has decided to hustle 13-year-olds at spelling, but she just ends up sleeping with him.

    This film is the spiritual kin of something like “Happy Gilmore” in more ways than one. Trilby is a loud-mouthed anomaly in the straight-laced atmosphere of spelling, yet he has an uncanny aptitude for the craft. Like Happy’s record-setting long-distance drives, Trilby can spell any multi-syllabic word that’s thrown at him, and like the stuffy golfers in “Happy Gilmore,” the parents of the kids aren’t too happy with an outsider crashing the party.

    There is one person, though, who is pleased to meet Trilby: Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a wide-eyed, smiling Indian kid looking for a friend. For some cheap laughs, the movie rolls out every Indian joke it can think of for Trilby throw at Chopra, from “slumdog” to threatening to tell the airplane stewardess that his bag is ticking. These jokes are plentiful, yet the laughs are relatively few — not a very good ratio.

    Bateman and screenwriter Andrew Dodge should not have focused as heavily on the mystery of Trilby’s past and intentions. When the big reveal comes, it doesn’t really arrive with much heft, narratively or emotionally. it’s neither jaw-dropping nor heart wrenching, but instead rather ho-hum. But if more attention had been placed on Trilby’s inner demons in order to give the thread more gravity, then the comedy would have been sacrificed.

    Bateman’s first stab at directing isn’t a failed one in the slightest. There’s some promise here, but his freshman film has left a lot of room for growth.

    Grade: C

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