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.
(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
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
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,