I always find it interesting when movies get marketed as being “so and so actor’s directorial debut.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will excel at making a good movie just because they have acted in other movies. Sure there have been a lot of success stories, like Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood, but it doesn’t serve as a way to market it because they simply have never made a movie before. It would be like a sales associate taking over a management position. They know how to be a salesman, but they don’t know how to be a manager. It is a trial and error sort of approach, and in terms of movies there have been a few bad productions by some pretty great actors, notably Kevin Bacon and Eddie Murphy.
Luckily Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words can be considered (for the most part) a success.
We meet Guy Trilby, played by Bateman himself, at a spelling bee. No, he doesn’t have a child participating in it, but rather he is exposing loopholes in the rules in order to compete as a 40 year old. This creates disdain from parents everywhere, especially after the introduction scene; he has won about 5 spelling bees out from underneath kids’ feet. We don’t know exactly why he is entering these competitions; all we know is he is really good at spelling and that he is out for something other than monetary gain. Along with him for the ride to the Golden Quill national spelling bee in Ohio is journalist Jenny Widgeon (who I really don’t recall being named too often), who is covering the story for her online newspaper. His winnings have drawn national coverage for the normally untelevised event, and also stirs hatred from the president of the bee, played by Allison Janney. Trilby also befriends another competitor, Chaitanya Chopra, played by Rohan Chand, and the two of them get up to some wacky shenanigans involving prostitutes and alcohol.
As the title of the movies promises, there are a lot of bad words spoken in this film. I am sure I am not the only review who has made some sort of reference to this but it had to be made. Bateman delivers on the comedy with great precision and impact. There are quite a few cringe moments where you can’t believe that he is actually saying and doing the things he does. I actually didn’t have my hopes up going into this movie after seeing some of his previous work like Couples Retreat, The Switch, and Extract. But he was able to gain back a lot of lost credit with this role; he is right in his place here, and much like the humor in Horrible Bosses, it is what he should stick to. Of course he will always be great as Michael Bluth, but don’t get me started on that latest season please.
Rohan Chand is also able to perform quite well with someone as established as Bateman. He is only about 9 or 10, and yet he is capable of dishing out swear words and quick humor while also being the heart of this film. The chemistry between the two is what carries their scenes. Chopra only wants a friend, and at first Trilby is reluctant, but eventually finds a friend too in the young competitor.
Aside from Chand and Bateman, the supporting cast is pretty underwritten. Janney’s character, who tries to sabotage Trilby, is basically gone after about halfway through the movie with a lot of the jokes set up earlier in the movie for her character receiving their punch-lines far too soon. Her character, as well as Widgeon, played by Kathryn Hahn, though funny as her character is, appears merely as a device to further the story and don’t really carry much weight behind their roles.
The problem lies within the screenplay, and not with Bateman’s skills at directing. If one were to remove the subplot with the journalistic story, there could have been room for something far more entertaining and relevant to the plot. The movie is pretty formulaic, with some easily predictable plot points and twists. We don’t really care at the end about the story or the journalist for that matter, but we do care about why Trilby wanted to win. The entire movie could be summed up in just a few sentences in terms of storyline, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a bad movie, just some poor writing on the screenwriter’s side.
The other thing I noticed about this movie is its cinematographically unique choices. The movie has a very distinct look to it, and it seems like Bateman was trying to create a different look and feel than most raunchy comedies these days. Apart from that, some shots seem like advertisements, like the scene with the car sitting on the hill. At times the cinematography takes away from the film, but other times it helps it create its own special look.
Is this the best directorial debut from an actor? Most definitely not. Is it an admirable endeavor? Yes, and Bateman proves he can successfully wield a camera. The big issues lie mostly in the screenplay, and the underdeveloped characters and unnecessary plot devices.
So, if you want to see a raunchy movie that will make you laugh and cringe, go check out Bad Words, just don’t expect it to be anything truly great.