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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Game's Afoot.

Bad Words

Plot Overview

Some hands seize a small trophy, mellow music sets the mood, and the director/star Jason Bateman narrates: “I'm not that good at … thinking things though. That's why this plan is so shitty.” Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old proof­reader of manuals, has entered the 15th annual Golden Quill spelling bee. Having never completed the eighth grade, he qualifies for what is other­wise a children's event (“You're in the wrong place.”)

His necessary journalist backer is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) of the “Click 'n' Scroll.” There is some controversy over whether a 40-year-old can qualify as a contestant, and for that matter the controversy over whether Inter­net publishing is really journalism at all is not resolved here in “Bad Words.” At least we get to hear their agreed-upon inter­views every time Guy wins. Only Guy is close in the extreme, not revealing any­thing about him­self. Jenny her­self is closed in their coupling (“Don't look at me!”) All we are left with is the math. The national (tele­vised) finals are of the 111th national bee. That would put the national bees starting around the turn of the 20th century. In fact regional and/or local spelling bees hark back to pioneer days when that was what they did for fun. Their name “Golden Quill” reminds us they had them before the ball point pen was invented, to say nothing of the computer mouse (vis-à-vis “Click 'n' Scroll.”)

Jenny calls in a favor from an FBI agent to learn some­thing about Guy's past: “I found out who your father is.” This is significant, but they don't tell us who, although some clues are dropped. Obama morphing into Malcolm XDisplayed in the back­ground of an earlier scene is an Obama poster touting Change. Here's another man you'd need the FBI to learn the origins of. Because of a marked physical resem­blance, the specu­lation is he's really the son of Malcolm X who knew his mother around the time leading up to his birth. Malcolm X did, it seems, support Obama's education. Guy didn't have any­one to set him straight in his youth, which is why he dropped out of the eighth grade, even though a teacher had written on his record—but didn't tell Guy—, “You showed signs of being a genius.” Guy's word know­ledge is encyclo­pedic, so he should be able to win the national bee hands down, but there's some­thing else going on from his past that we're not entirely apprised of until the end.


The contestants are accommodated at the Sportsman Lodge Hotel, which is ironic considering the lack of sports­man­ship in this compe­tition. Consider first the level of difficulty of their play, words like noctivagant. Last night I caught and released a noctivagant shrew that was keeping me awake. A big word for a small creature, but on the national level it's supposed to be difficult. But how does one explain Guy getting words like Floc­cin­aucini­hili­pil­ifi­cation? Some­body rigged the list against him (“The randomized word list was manipulated.”)

Guy didn't have many­—any—friends. But seated for competition he'd buddy up to the kids on either side of him, then mess with their minds in the guise of trying to encourage them. We're looking at a variation on, (Sirach 11:34) “Receive a stranger into thine house, and he will disturb thee, and turn thee out of thine own.” Guy was set­ting them up to get bumped from the contest.

But starting on the plane, one of the competitors 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) went out of his way to befriend Guy. What was that all about? When the two went out catting together, Guy introduced him to adult vices, then it was a matter of: In for a penny, In for a pound; some­thing along the lines of a paragraph from author John Sandford (21):

    “She was, like, fifteen, wearing a T-shirt, no bra,” Del said. “It was plastered to her. I said, ‘Well, I can see it all, you might as well take it off.’ I was kidding, but she did. She had nipples the color of wild roses, you know? That real light pink. I had a hard-on for two months.”

At the end of the film, Guy composes a letter about what he'd gone through. The camera only gives us a glimpse. It's about “fixing things” and “trying a little too hard.” It's the stuff prayers are made of, but Guy doesn't look pious enough to be praying, unless we consider what historian Paul Johnson wrote about What Jesus Taught: “Do not make a parade of praying in the street, but ‘enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door pray to thy Father’” (89). Guy's very hotel room was the quint­essential prayer closet like unto Sand­ford's, “His office had once been a janitor's closet” (38). He is the epitome of keeping his (prayer) burden private and as such is a better example of how to pray than one of some­one who calls attention to him­self exuding piety.

Production Values

“Bad Words” (2013) was directed by Jason Bateman who also starred in it. Its screen­play was written by Andrew Dodge. It stars Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, and Rohan Chand. The acting was good except young Rohan Chand seemed too camera conscious. Its Motion Picture (MPAA) Rating was R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity. The music seemed up-tempo and lively, appropriate enough for its material. The special effects consisted of a Test Pattern for technical difficulties at the televised spelling bee when the show took a bad turn, and the words-to-spell displayed in large block letters on the bottom of the screen so the consumer audience doesn't feel stupid.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I kind of got a kick out of this offbeat movie once I learned not to let the bad attitudes of the people involved get to me. After all, it's only a game despite the seriousness with which the players take it. Guy's motivations keep us in suspense until the denouement. It's worth a viewing.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes.

Special effects: Average special effects.

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age.

Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening.

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments.

Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture (Matt. 6:6) quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Apocryphal scripture taken from The Septuagint with Apoc­rypha: Greek and English. U.S.A.: Hendrick­son Pub. Originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851. Print, WEB.

Johnson, Paul. Jesus: A Biography from a Believer. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. Print.

Sandford, John. Eyes of Prey. New York: Berkley Books, 1992. Print.