Centered around an adult who enters the national spelling bee, Bad Words’ plot isn’t much more than that. The man that enters the bee, Guy Trilby, is a short fused and foul mouthed sociopath, that is where the film’s hook comes in, and it does it one better by pairing him up in an unlikely friendship with a young Indian boy, Chaitanya Chopra, who is a front runner to win the competition. Trilby is an excellent speller, but that doesn’t mean he won’t take any means necessary to flummox his child opponents and the results are cruel to hilarious effect.
To spoil all the shenanigans would be a disservice to the comedy in the film as Guy Trilby will go to any length to take these kids out. The sequences centered around the bee are all pretty great, but the film is at its best when we get to watch Bateman, as Trilby, go toe to toe with Rohan Chand who plays his stiffest competition. Their frenemy relationship that develops is often sweet, but some of the stuff these guys do together is borderline shocking for a child actor. Obviously it’s just a movie, but still, they make Chand do some risque stuff. And the kid is great. He doesn’t shy from anything they throw at him and he goes toe to toe with Bateman over the course of the entire picture. These two have wonderful chemistry together and it is the reason the film is as successful as it is.
Trilby’s motivations for why he does all of this never really resonated as strongly as they might have desired, but him being a sociopath makes that go down a bit easier I suppose. Kathryn Hahn is great when she is given something to work with and, while funny here, her character does get a little lost along the way. Her character also acts very oddly and desperate for reasons we never really get into as far as I can remember (its been a month or so since I saw the film), but I wish she got to be the third lead of the film rather than a second fiddle. I also wish there was more for Allison Janney to do and I don’t really see why she and Philip Baker Hall’s characters couldn’t have been just one person. Still, always happy to see both of those actors, so I guess we can call it a win. Ben Falcone also does a fine job filling the comedic commentator role (Bateman in Dodgeball remains one of my all time favorite commentators) and joins a long line of talent that has made the most of that situation.
I hate to be so brief on Bad Words, but I can easily recommend it to any comedy fans out there. The tone is pretty dark, but there is a heart to the picture as well. Nothing deplorable really happens, but Bateman unleashed with no filter in front of small children is bound to make some people recoil. I was laughing my head off.
Bad Words is a B+