A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.
Focus Features is a small distribution company that's delivered some indie gems, several of which are amongst my very favorite films of the last decade: 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' 'The Three Flavours Cornetto' trilogy ('Shaun of the Dead,' 'Hot Fuzz' and 'The World's End'), 'Brick,' 'Burn After Reading,' 'Away We Go,' 'Hanna,' 'Beginners' and 'Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.' Progressively over the last couple years, they've tried putting out studio-standard R-rated comedies with wide theatrical releases, but haven't had the studio-quality success that comes with the genre. Focus tanked earlier this year with Zac Efron's R-rated comedy 'That Awkward Moment,' which is why I believe that 'Bad Words' – which was originally poised as a decent-size wide release – slipped through the theatrical cracks with a very small release. 'Bad Words' isn't as disingenuous as 'That Awkward Moment,' but now having seen it, I can see why Focus didn't push it as hard as they had originally planned.
'Bad Words' is actor Jason Bateman's feature directorial debut. The man who's been in front of the camera since age 10 decided to hop behind the camera for this one, but also had to jump in front it when when he couldn't find anyone brave enough to tackle this somewhat dark, offensive, and negative leading role. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a bitter 40-something man on a childish personal mission to smear the wholesome name of the United States' well-known spelling bee institution The Golden Quill. Guy has found a way to infiltrate the organization through a loophole. The official rulebook states that contestants must not have passed the eighth grade by the end of the calendar year in order to participate. Having dropped out of the eighth grade, he technically didn't pass it by the end of the year, so he's eligible to participate in the nationwide television Golden Quill spelling bee contest. Why he's motivated to do such a thing – crushing the hopes and dreams of nerdy kids from across the country – is a major, secret plot point in the film, one of the elements that drives it along.
Guy knows the rulebook like the back of his hand, so he's come fully prepared to make it to the last stage of the competition. One of the qualifying factors is that he must have a nationally-recognizing news sponsor, which is why he has a frumpy and frail reporter (Kathryn Hahn) from the fictional online news outlet 'The Click and Scroll' following him around. She's looking for the "why?" behind his offensive madness and hopes to be the first and only reporter to crack this national media case.
On the flight to the tournament, Guy meets a fellow contestant, 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). Through racial slurs and stereotypes, Guy tries shaking this strange kid off his leg, but their relationship quickly mirrors that of Billy Bob Thornton and The Kid in 'Bad Santa.' They get into trouble, make some noise, participate in non-kid-friendly shenanigans and become good buddies - buddies that must ultimately face off in the contest.
While 'Bad Words' has plenty of laughs – many of which (the best of which) stem from offensive, rude and non-P.C. comments and actions – there's a darkness at its very core. Guy is a sad character. He digs his own holes in life and purposely separates himself from anyone who shows him positive attention. Something is wrong. And the long-term lead-in to finding out his motivations reeks of that gloomy darkness. Sure, you're going to laugh throughout the movie, but you're also going to dive into some unexpectedly moody waters. If I had to compare it to another picture, again, it would be 'Bad Santa.'
If you're looking for an off-the-radar dark comedy and enjoy the comedic work of Jason Bateman, then you ought to find 'Bad Words' entertaining enough. It doesn't have much going for it in the way of re-watachability, but it's definitely worth seeing once.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has placed 'Bad Words' on a BD-50 and given it the two-disc combo pack treatment. A DVD copy of the film is included, as is a code for the redemption of both iTunes and Ultraviolet digital copies. Both discs and the code are housed in a two-disc blue Elite keepcase with a glossy and embossed cardboard slip cover. A slew of trailers play before you get to the clip-filled main menu, all of which are skippable. The trailers include 'Walk of Shame,' 'Wish I Was Here,' 'The Fluffy Movie,' 'A Haunted House 2' and 'The Signal.'
'Bad Words' has been given a very strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Truthfully, the only real flaw to this disc is a minor amount of banding that shows up during the Donnie Darko vanity reel that opens the movie. That's it.
The first thing that you'll notice about 'Bad Words' is the desaturated palette. You can't miss the heavy sepia tone. It's present during the entire film. Not a flaw of the Blu-ray, the intense filter is no mistake, as Bateman notes it during the commentary track. The only time that the filter is removed is during the scenes that are viewed from the perspective of live television coverage of the Golden Quill contest. During those scenes, the style completely changes to match the quality of broadcast footage. Motion isn't perfect, some straight lines feature minor aliasing, etc. Although Bateman never references this stylistic change in his commentary, it's evidently a decided look and feel and seemingly not a problem with the Blu-ray itself. Being a dark movie, there's plenty of darkness throughout. Whites aren't very bright (because the sepia takes them over), but the blacks are rich and deep.
The amount of detail to the picture is awesome. You'll wish that every Blu-ray could contain this sharpness. Bateman almost always wears a brown corduroy sports jacket during the movie. No matter the scene nor the setting, you'll always see the textured lines of it – especially on the jaket's Shoulders. Bateman's facial texture is evident. His freckles more apparent than ever. Also, the tiny age wrinkles around his eyes are prominent. Hahn's hair is always frazzled in the movie. There are more rogue hairs shooting away from her head than you'd want to count, but the detail is so rich that you could count them if you wanted to. You'll even notice the texture of set walls throughout the movie. My favorite of the defined sets is the interior of an elevator. The shiny and somewhat reflective walls look fantastic.
'Bad Words' carries a transfer that's definitely better than most comedies and indie flicks combined.
'Bad Words' carries A nice little 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. From classical overtures to voice-less Beastie Boys rap melodies, Bateman uses music as a playful aid to carry us through the film. He even places a great boys-night-out montage in the middle of the movie that's purely music-driven. No matter the style of music, the scene or the setting, music is always well-mixed and spread throughout the channels, proving a nice mood enhancer. A fun angle to music is the rawness in which some of it is played. For example, an old rock 'n' roll tune in the beginning of the movie features the high-end crunch and distortion that an aged rock recording would have. It's not cleaned up nor meant to sound perfect. It's got an edge to it that perfectly matches the scene.
This isn't the type of picture to carry a jaw-dropping effects mix, as most scenes are confined to small enclosed locations, but the effects excel when they need to. Crowds warrants voices and banter from all around the room and ambient sounds are used to fill the air with environmental effects. When called for, effects are mixed into the proper channels around the room.
With voices playing such a large role in world of 'Bad Words,' the vocal track is very well mixed. Voices not only sound clear, but extremely clean. Possibly cleaner than real life. They carry weight. They're resonant and rich, spanning the spectrum of high highs and deep lows.
Treading a treacherous line between indie comedy and crude R-rated comedy, 'Bad Words' isn't a complete success, but it's definitely not a failure. Easily the best of Focus Features' attempts at crossing over the two genres, 'Bad Words' ends up being a dark comedy with an unexpected heart. Jason Bateman keeps the movie worthwhile through his roles as lead actor and director. It's worth watching at least once, but doesn't have the re-watchability that's expected from classic comedies. The video quality is near-perfect and the audio is very good, but the disc is lacking in special features. All-in-all, I recommend giving 'Bad Words' a rent before blindly buying it. If you like foul-mouth comedies in the vein of 'Bad Santa,' then you ought to enjoy it well enough.