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Bad Words

Year: 2013
Production Co: Aggregate Films
Director: Jason Bateman
Producer: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney

I wasn't sure what I expected from this movie apart from what the trailer sold it as – Jason Bateman doing what he does best as the only real successor to Bill Murray's sardonic and deadpan comic shtick.

He plays Guy, a grown man who finds a loophole to enter a local spelling bee and ride his success all the way to the big national competition.

Along the way we find out Guy has a plan, and it's got something to do with Dr Bowman (Philip Baker Hall), the academic chairman at the head of the spelling bee association.

He's accompanied by a harried reporter (Kathryn Hahn), a wonderful role that portrays a woman with all her own flaws and weaknesses. She's trying to figure out what he's getting out of the experience and can't help going to bed with him even though she hates herself for it.

Guy collects enemies all the way along his climb to the top, from the parents of his competitors to the officials (led by Allison Janney) all desperately trying to find a way around the loophole and kick him out.

And because it's an American movie about someone with a little bit of wit who doesn't seem to need anybody in his life, that makes it a redemption tale, and it comes in the shape of Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a little Indian kid and competitor who cheerfully ignores all Guy's put-downs, snarks and attempts to be left alone and insists that the pair be friends.

When the reveal about Guy's plan arrives it's a little bit melodramatic and if you want to feel the revelation makes the movie a tragicomedy you might get something out of it. It's more effective as a comic platform for Bateman to do what he does best, playing the straight man who's funny because of his wit (while so many comic actors personas are built on them being stupid).

The dramatic elements seem to detract a little bit from the comedy while you watch it, but afterwards you realise it's actually been an essentially dramatic story that happens to have a funny character. As such, Bad Words isn't rip roaring or side splitting – you're really only laughing at individual lines of Bateman's skill at creative insult.

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