Bad Words (2013)

(On Cable TV, February 2015)  Jason Bateman’s usual screen persona is usually that of the good guy, albeit often tempered with a bit of bad passive-aggressive behavior.  He rarely goes as full-shmuck as he does in Bad Words, where he undertakes a fairly difficult turn as a highly intelligent, but a just-as- belligerent middle-aged man who finds a way into the national spelling bee contest.  He’s out to prove something, and he doesn’t intend to let anyone stand in his way.  The result is one of the most strikingly unlikable protagonist in recent memory, one that doesn’t do much to earn audience sympathies and, in fact, such a repellant protagonist for so long that when his redemption comes (as it usually does in those films), it feels forced and not entirely convincing.  Still, it’s a strong performance and Bateman does even better as the director of the film, delivering the film’s laughs in an effective fashion.  Still, much of Bad Words is just an unbearable as its lead character: it’s deliberately offensive, rife with bad behavior and takes a long while to earn even a smidge of sympathy.  At least Bateman acquits himself honorably on both sides of the camera (few will be able to call this a vanity project given the unlikeability of his character), with able supporting performances by Kathryn Hahn (playing another character with a streak of depravity) and newcomer Rohan Chand.  Bad Words certainly is a specific kind of comedy that will find fans and haters alike.  Your reaction is likely to be based on your tolerance for the kind of antisocial behavior exhibited by the protagonist.

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