The Museum of the Moving Image hosted a preview screening of Bad Words, a film soon to open directed by and starring Jason Bateman, of Arrested Development and other such things. Regrettably, the bad isn't good.
Bateman plays a 40-something man who decides to participate in a spelling bee for children. He never finished 8th grade, so under the rules (can't have finished 8th grade before a certain date) he gets to play.
We're supposed to guess, I suppose, how a man who never finished 8th grade can spell so many obscure words so precisely. According to the Q&A afterwards, cue cards were very important. But that helps the actor, not the character.
Just like we're supposed to guess why a reporter for a magazine is following the guy around for a story. Really?
No guessing on this: Bateman's character isn't content to leave things to change. While on stage, he'll talk to his fellow contestants and persuade one that he just slept with the kid's mother, or a young girl that she's just had her flowering with the evidence quite visible for all to see while she walks down a few steps to the microphone for her next word
Does this sound funny? It is, as played out, but it's also kind of creepy.
We don't want a creepy character, so there is plentiful voiceover narration to explain the character's regret and remorse at allowing himself to be so childish in his actions.
But that's about the only internal life that the character shows. All the voiceover narration in the world doesn't compensate for a script that gives its characters either no motivations or stock motivations. A script that trots out old tropes like the "at first, I was just pretending to be your friend, but then it became real." A script that has Philip Baker Hall as the head of the spelling bee announcing, a role that used to belong to Fred Willard in the other movies that had this character. It's hard to believe a script like this was on the "Black List" of best unproduced screenplays.
And I don't go to the movies to look at people who look ugly. Bateman has a haircut that reminded me of bad '70s haircuts in the small town New York I grew up in, like my little league coach the one year I "played," or every adult man who seemed to be around for a mid-'70s 4th of July fireworks on a summer camp outing to Dover Plains. The reporter played by Kathryn Hahn looks ugly. Allison Janney looks like she's wearing a wig she plucked from a dumpster.
The saving grace of the movie was Rohan Chand as one of the children in the spelling bee who brightens every scene he's in, plays off Bateman beautifully, acts with assurance, has a captivating smile. If we're lucky, maybe this young man of real talent can be the Mathew McConaughey of the 2020s and 2030s, but may end up in a few years embarking on a life of spandex playing some new mutant in the 7th thru 12th X-Men movies because that's what Hollywood wants all the good young actors to do.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.