Bad words. That simple phrase tends to make you think of words that you normally shouldn’t use in everyday conversation. I guess you could say that I find the title a little misleading here. While watching this movie, I found that the actions of a few characters and their shady motives made me rethink my stance on the title. The characters in this film are pretty shady and have no qualms about sinking to great lows in order to win the contest that is the crux of the film. It starts with a guy named Guy.
Jason Bateman stars in Bad Words (and also directed it) as Guy, a 40-something man who enters a prestigious spelling contest – “The National Quill Spelling Bee.” Honestly, the fact that a man goes to great lengths to participate in a contest that is meant for elementary school kids made me shake my head. I sat through this movie with a less than thrilled mood. But, I digress. Carry on! We find Guy had somehow, shall I say, academic troubles in the past that end up paying off for him, as he enters the first level of the spelling bee and quickly advances to the next round. Of course, there are arguments and confrontations and I just ended up wanting to slap Guy. For God’s sake, man! Act your age!!! Then again, that’s the whole point of this movie…..because he doesn’t act his age and he stoops to being shady with his competition. I guess the whole point to being shady and outsmarting your competition is to get the edge on them, no matter how low you go and what information you end up finding. After all, as Guy finds out, any information on your competition is better than nothing. This clip explains Guy quite easily.
The director of the spelling bee, Dr. Bernice Deagan, (Allison Janney) is less than thrilled at seeing a grown man in a competition that is clearly meant for school aged children. She’s pretty stiff and attempts to thwart Guy, and the hapless journalist, Jenny, (Kathryn Hahn) who’s accompanying Guy during his travels. I’m pretty sure that in a lot of these types of competitions there are plenty of backroom deals going on. You’re trying to outwit, outsmart and outlast your opponent – wait, wasn’t that the slogan for television’s Survivor reality show? You know the one where the tribe has spoken (something along those lines?)? Anyways, it applies because the Director tries to play her hand by fixing the word list in a weak attempt to get rid of Guy. And why not…..Guy gets the most challenging words and manages to spell them out with absolutely no issues. Talk about an unfair advantage, as an adult, your memory tends to be pretty good and you can practice spelling out words in front of people with increased confidence. Whereas when you’re a student, one of the most intimidating things to do is public speaking aspect of participating in spelling bees.
One contestant stands out the most: 10 year old Chatanya Chopra played by Rohan Chan.
Never mind that he is a student – this kid is in it to win it. He’s got a few strategies up his sleeve. Guy has his own personal motives for the whole scenario and it has to do with dealing with childhood abandonment at the hands of his father. Who just happens to be the founder of this spelling bee contest? Yup, the gloves are off and people end up doing and saying just about anything and everything to win and move ahead. Makes me shake my head, laugh and think that there’s no honor, there’s no satisfaction anymore in trying to do right by participating in a contest honestly. Integrity and honor are old school notions. They get you nowhere in this movie. Backstabbing, lying, eavesdropping and pulling the rug from under people gets you ahead – it’s a dirty business and everyone’s into it.
Eventually, the last two contestants end up being Chatanya and Guy – with hilarious and surprising results – which are recorded on live television. The final two try to outsmart each other, even deliberately making mistakes to the point where the fight during the final round. A surprising outcome and an unlikely friendship develop as a result of the spelling bee shenanigans. I wouldn’t exactly say that this is Oscar winner material, but if you like movies with a dry, dark sense of humor, with an off kilter sense of competition, then you might actually enjoy it. Maybe the trailer will help you decide to watch Bad Words when it premieres SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24 at 8:00pm.