Did you ever participate in a spelling bee? For most kids, it’s a good but annoying excuse to get out of class for the afternoon. Nobody really wants to win, because that means you have to compete again on a higher level. In the case of Bad Words, Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is making his journey to the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee personal. He is 40 years old and technically eligible for the bee because he has never passed the 8th grade. His take no prisoners attitude (plus the fact that he is a 40-year-old man competing against preteens) grates parents and competition officials alike. His media sponsor and online reporter Jenny Widgeon (Katherine Hahn) tries to figure out what his angle is for her big story, but by the time she figures out the reason for Guy’s vendetta, it’s too far to turn back.
Before I get too deep into the review, this movie had a bit of a personal connection. I enjoyed this film making a farce out of youth spelling bees because I was victim (LOL) of that vicious system.
If you know me, you’ll know that I was the chump who was a couple dozen spots away from making it to the Scripps National Spelling bee. I won the school bee at Fulton Independent (which became a race to see how fast everyone could bail from the competition by intentionally spelling words wrong), then won the Fulton County bee (which was just four competitors, the winner and runner up from each school in the county). Winning that, which took a pitiful two rounds, I booked a spot in the Mid-South Regional Spelling Bee held at the University of Memphis. It was intimidating. I was there among spelling ‘royalty’ – the winner of the Scripps bee the previous year had come through Memphis, and now her younger sister was the heavy favorite to return that year. I lasted 7 rounds and about two hours. Out of 57 participants, I ended up going out around 25th or so. It was quite possibly the most intimidating experience of my entire life, and while I was insanely proud of my accomplishment of getting so close to the nationally televised spelling bee (without any stupid studying or preparation), I was also relieved to know it was over.
Anyway, long personal anecdote over, Spelling bees are intense. Stupidly intense. And most of these kids get groomed by their parents to have no social life and try to get lots of money and dork fame in hopes for a fancy Ivy-league college degree. It is a farce, and Bad Words takes a great shot across the bow at the bee-culture that is very much a sad reality in this country. Parents need to let their kids be kids – encourage academic success, but don’t force it.
This was a great film. I’m not sure if it was marketed particularly well, as I don’t recall seeing or hearing anything about it’s release in theaters earlier this year (March 2014). Granted, I was slogging through the final two months of my bachelors degree work, so I really wasn’t paying attention to the outside world, much less what was playing in theaters each weekend.
I love Jason Bateman’s work. He is a fantastic comedic actor, playing perfect roles in the same vein as his character Micheal Bluth in Arrested Development. He has a dry, harsh, and often subtle comedic influence that is uncommon and actually very valuable in movies and TV shows. I thought that the dynamic that he shared with his young Bee rival and ‘pseudo-friend’ Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) was entertaining and heartwarming at the same time.
There were a lot of great shenanigans and the movie really didn’t devolve into a lot of cheap gags – of course the language was graphic at times, but that was the running joke of the film.
The only real negative was the fact that the ending seemed a little anticlimactic given everything that occurred in the plot earlier. I assume it was on purpose given the change of heart that Guy experiences before his plans come to completion, but it still felt a little bit flat in my opinion.
Overall I thought this was a fantastic comedy with a good message in the end. It doesn’t matter what you accomplish in life if you throw away everything and everyone who got you there. You cannot do everything yourself, and you shouldn’t keep yourself away from the rest of the world. Make some friends, have some fun, and never regret or forget where you come from, because those are the people, places, and times that made you who you are today.
Golden Squid Rating
Fun and smart comedy. Check it out!