For obvious reasons, one big cinematic no-no is the depiction of cruelty or violence towards kids. For example, not even Jason Voorhees was allowed to cross that line in Friday the 13th Part VI even though he had an easy stroll through a cabin full of slumbering little kids. However, because children on film are so often presented as unbearably mawkish there is a real kick to be had on those rare occasions when film characters are allowed to acknowledge that sometimes kids are little bastards. Robert Downey, Jr. has been solely responsible for two recent examples of this, first when he actually punched an annoying kid in the face in Due Date and then when he was deeply sarcastic and outright hostile to all the kids who popped up in Iron Man 3.
Well, now Jason Bateman is joining the party, starring and producing as well as making his directorial debut with Bad Words. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a high school dropout who discovers a loophole which allows him to compete against kids a fraction of his age in National Quill Spelling Bees. He dashes little kids dreams left and right as he mops the floor with them at regional spelling bee competitions before advancing to the finals. Unlike Due Date, Bateman’s character does not seem to necessarily be taking annoying kids down a peg. However, he’s also not playing nice just because that’s what you’re supposed to do with little kids.
Here’s the trailer:
This looks like a combination of the classic episode of Seinfeld where Kramer joins a karate class meant for gradeschool-aged children (“their tiny fists of fury”) and Bad Santa. As far as comedic inspirations go, you absolutely cannot go wrong with either one of those sources. Just like Bad Santa, Bad Words deeply dark comedy will not be for everyone. However, I personally laughed out loud multiple times during the trailer.
Bad Words premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, where it was picked up for distribution by Focus Features. In their review, The Hollywood Reporter called it “the most effective pipe bomb of misanthropic comedy since Bad Santa.” They also clarified that we shouldn’t wait for Bateman’s character to ever really become a good guy, his black heart brought back to life by any kind of manic pixie dream kid or something. “Andrew Dodge‘s script refuses any attempt to make its protagonist likable but gives him lines too funny not to laugh at.”
Jason Bateman is the type of comedian who has a slightly smug “smartest man in the room” persona. This, in fact, may just be his natural personality, as there isn’t a great deal of difference between his on-screen persona and the manner in which he converses with (for example) John Stewart on The Daily Show when promoting one of his movies. This made him perfect as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, where he served as the center of a cartoonish, dysfunctional family. However, while getting the best one-liners, often insulting his family members without them noticing, he managed to remain a sympathetic, likable presence because at his core he was a good person who valued family above everything.
Since Arrested Development, Bateman has ended up in typically mediocre mainstream comedies (The Switch, Horrible Bosses, The Change-Up, Identity Thief) in which he usually gets a couple of good Michael Bluth-like jokes but is burdened with having to work to come off as likable. Then the most recent season of Arrested Development surprised many by making Michael Bluth into a bit of a bad guy, so focused on profiting off of his family he ends up hurting the most important person to him, his son. It was a brave choice, but Bateman acquitted himself well with the darker material.
With Bad Words, he stepped outside of the studio system, and went completely independent, able to go darker than he ever has before. The result has the looks of exactly the type of comedy he should have made years ago.
Bad Words is due out in the US on March 14, 2014.
Did you love the trailer? Hate it? Let us know in the comments section.