In Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, a prickly forty-something with a long-festering grudge named Guy inserts himself into a national spelling bee for children by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules that simply stipulate that entrants must not have graduated from the eighth grade. Having dropped out of middle-school (and accompanied by a scrappy journalist ready to spread negative publicity at the drop of a hat), Guy meets with begrudging official compliance that quickly erupts into a national controversy surrounding his participation. It doesn’t help that Guy gleefully exerts dominance over his otherwise bright and intelligent kid competitors whom he eviscerates through intimidation, manipulation, fear, and his own grown-up word power. Guy’s motives for competing against children in a nationally televised spelling bee are kept a mystery until near the end of the film, but suffice it to say, he’s an angry man looking for revenge. Along his path of destruction, Guy develops an unlikely friendship with an overly earnest 10-year-old named Chaitanya, who proves to be quick study in the ways of profanity, reckless behavior, and ultimately, stubbornness.
Bad Words is a pleasantly vulgar, pitch-black comedy that avoids the usual tidy-bow happy-ending clichés found in most Hollywood comedies. Guy is unabashedly unpleasant and his slightly paternal relationship with Chaitanya never gets cloying. It’s worth checking out if you like your humor dark and inappropriate. The talented cast includes Kathryn Hahn, Philip Baker Hall, and Allison Janney.