Bad Words lives up to its name

Jason Bateman directs and stars in _Bad Words_. (credit: Courtesy of Sam Javanrouh via Flickr.) Jason Bateman directs and stars in _Bad Words_. (credit: Courtesy of Sam Javanrouh via Flickr.)

AB Films hosted a free premiere screening of Bad Words Thursday night, though it is not set to hit theaters with limited release until March 14. If you like dark comedies with vulgar humor and one-dimensional characters, you will love this movie. For those seeking a film with substance, the movie falls flat.

The story starts with eighth-grade dropout Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) entering and winning a spelling bee for middle school students to make up for the loss he endured in such a competition when he was a child. The action of the story starts with Guy on his way to the Golden Quill spelling bee — the be-all and end-all of spelling bees in the world. While he is there, he endures indignant comments and threats from angry parents and spelling bee officials who don’t want him to be there, even while he breaks no rules by competing.

While his antics throughout the competition are meant to provide comedy, the audience does not understand his motives or his jaded nature until halfway through the movie. At that point, he has already proven to be such a jerk, it’s hard to sympathize with him despite his sad story. In the end, when he accomplishes what he originally sets out to do, it’s so inconsequential that the audience does not feel the satisfaction or fulfillment they should after seeing a film.

One important film element that Bad Words lacked was character development. Guy was the only character that truly had any depth or experienced any real development. Even still, the little backstory that the audience got about his character — details left out for sake of avoiding spoilers — did not seem to justify his off-putting personality and disregard for anyone else’s feelings. His character was neither fully developed nor relatable.

Maybe Guy would have been tolerable if his foil — bright-eyed, innocent, 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) — had remained bright-eyed and innocent. Chaitanya immediately becomes lovable when he tries to befriend Guy on the way to the spelling bee, only to be rejected in a slew of colorful language and racist remarks from Guy. However, after Guy corrupts him, he experiences just a bit of character development. He doesn’t use “bad words” at the beginning of the film or show any special affinity for prostitutes, but he does both at the end.

Perhaps most disappointingly, Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a freelance writer hired by Guy to serve as his press sponsor in the spelling bee, gets no character development whatsoever. Her character shows definite potential for growth, yet remains static throughout the film. Jenny is nothing more than a nagging presence who serves to reveal a bit of backstory on Guy. Hahn has appeared in tons of movies (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and TV shows (Parks and Recreation, Girls, The Newsroom) and has proven more than capable of bringing her characters to life. This problem was not one of poor acting; but one of poor writing.

This film is not the place to look for strong female characters; there are none to be found. Any woman with half a brain is portrayed as annoying, uptight, or prudish, and only useful for sex. Jenny, for example, repeatedly tells Guy she will not have sex with him, and then immediately has sex with him. When they are not having sex — and even during those scenes — she is naggy and annoying. Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) is an uptight prude whose only source of personal fulfillment is directing the spelling bee. These characters finish off the list of main female characters, and all other minor female characters are either prostitutes or annoying tropes that Guy insults colorfully based on their sexual activity (or lack thereof).

Characters are such an important part of a film. They can make the film relatable, draw the audience in, and make the viewers care about what happens in the story. These characters were not relatable, endearing, or well developed and are arguably the biggest shortcoming of the film.

However, comedies are not known for their hard-hitting plots or moving characters. If you’re looking for a superficial comedy with little substance, look for this movie in select theaters March 14 and nationwide March 28.