“Bad Words”
Normally, I don't go for caustic humor, the kind that constantly ridicules and belittles others. Nor do I normally go for the supposed cuteness of putting cuss words in kids' mouths. Personally, I think of it as a form of child abuse. It's not cute, and it's not funny. And don't even get me started on underage girls being filmed in sexual situations. But I digress. The plot of "Bad Words" makes it sound like it delves into yet another dastardly activity: a grown man (of 40) taking way too much interest in a young boy (who's 9). But thankfully "Bad Words" doesn't go there, either. Where it does go is a strange kind of unusual journey for a couple of lost souls, a younger one and an older one, to make a connection with each other, almost despite themselves. And the strange things their families have done to them. Even in the name of "helping" them.
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is a grown man entering a school spelling bee because he can. He quotes chapter and verse of the rules to some quailing administrators and outraged parents: you have to have not finished eighth grade by a certain date, which he didn't , because he never, in fact, finished the eighth grade. But now that he's 40, he wants to try to win the spelling bee that he couldn't enter back then....back then when his poverty-stricken single Mom yanked him from place to place just ahead of the fuming landlord.
The thing is, Guy is really good at this. He says (in the beginning overdub) that he's not good at very many things, and as smart as he seems to be, we viewers find that a little difficult to believe. But perhaps the obvious underachievement is for good reason. Guy seems quite emotionally stunted. He's a loner who pushes people away with caustic put-downs. He's not above intimidating the opposition in the spelling bees, which is definitely an unfair advantage, but he doesn't seem to care about anyone's feelings. He's accompanied by this supposed reporter, Kathryn (Jenny Widgeon), who's ostensibly doing a story on him, but he gives her precious little material. They appear to have some hormonal connection, almost despite themselves, but their desperate "don't look at me" lovemaking sessions are somewhere between sad and funny, with an intimation of poignancy but entirely bereft of either eroticism or genuine affection.
For the boy Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who's just awakening to a world around him other than studying for spelling bees, it's sad how doggedly he pursues a "friendship" with Guy, freely admitting that he has no friends his own age, in fact, all the other kids make fun of him, because he's different. (He of course fails to recognize that they're jealous of his achievements and secretly admire his intelligence and ambition). His parents seem only interested in his excelling as a spelling performer, his father so intent on teaching him self-reliance that he leaves him alone in the motel to prepare.
Guy, it turns out, has his own reasons why his own native intelligence never really translated into ambition, though we're unclear how can he actually afford to have no visible means of support. Guess it doesn't really serve the plot. But this kid Chaitanya not only worms his way into the hearts of the viewers, even the callous Guy feels some milk of human kindness stirring in him, a sensation heretofore entirely unfamiliar. And it makes him do things that surprise even him.
But mostly, the reason to see this film is that it's wickedly funny. In a quirky, squirrely kind of way. Not many movies can say that.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas