Jason Bateman ("Identity Thief") makes his feature directorial debut and stars in this crude, rude, dark comedy about 40-year-old Guy Trilby, a proofreader with a photographic memory, who takes advantage of a technical loophole in the rules of The Golden Quill national spelling bee and declares his eligibility because he never completed eighth grade.
In the regional competitions, self-righteous parents are understandably angry when abrasive, yet verbally agile Trilby gleefully triumphs over their uber-bright adolescents, many of whom have been studying assiduously for years. The furious tournament administrator, Dr. Deagan (Alison Janney), and its dignified director, Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall), do everything within their power to disqualify him. Trilby's merciless victories catch the attention of dowdy Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), an online news reporter who is curious about his underlying motives. But, then, on an airplane en route to the finals in Los Angeles, Trilby is befriended by a polite, sweetly precocious contestant, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), whose father pressures him to win at all costs. Their clandestine evening excursions, which include shoplifting and vandalism, set to the music of the Beastie Boys, form the epitome of inappropriately disreputable fun.
Working from a screenplay by Andrew Dodge, Bateman obviously relishes his antihero's ferocious, foul-mouthed insults and mean-spirited intimidations. Both screenwriter and director credit the Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound" (2002) for inspiration and insight into the insular, arcane world of elite spelling bees -- with their elaborate protocols. And the words chosen to test the smartest competitors are among the most obscure, many almost unpronounceable.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Bad Words" is a surprising, subtly subversive 7, the most misanthropic comedy since "Bad Santa."