Some Okay Words About “Bad Words”

Jason Bateman

Sometimes, you watch a movie, and you really see that this is a movie someone loved in the making. This is a movie someone sent out into the world while clutching the movie’s old teddy bear and a scrapbook of their trip to Disney Land, a movie whose criticism will mean something to someone because they invested entirely too deeply in it and certainly aren’t going to back away now just because it’s in a place where other people can see.

Bad Words is not one of those movies.

Look, Jason Bateman has carved out a pretty consistent career playing the charming jackass, and Bad Words doesn’t really challenge his range. There is, in fact, nothing really challenging about Bad Words, which doesn’t quite reach an hour and a half before shrugging and going eh, we tried. The plot hangs together by the most precarious of threads, and the central “mystery” is immediately obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a movie or, let’s be honest, heard about the concept of fiction. The second act is underdeveloped in what’s possibly the most half-assed expression of a Snyderian structure ever, and it appears that Kathryn Hahn was shoved a napkin on which someone had scribbled the word “quirky” about five minutes before production.

All right, maybe I’m being a little overcritical, but I’m just frustrated, because this movie could clearly have been so much better than it was. I mean, for all those faults, there’s a reason Jason Bateman plays the sympathetic jackass, and that’s because he’s really good at it, and I’d be willing to bet that, given some talented people around him, he’s a fairly competent director as well. Watching Bateman finding increasingly crude and innovative ways of insulting the hapless fools around him literally never gets old (I’d say I could watch an entire movie just of that, but I feel like I kind of did). They managed to make me laugh at a poop joke, for crying out loud! They managed to take a joke about bodily excretion and make it not only clever and relevant to the plot but also something I would legitimately characterize as funny!

…which is why the laziness that pervades the rest of the movie is just so damn disheartening. All right, let’s talk about the rape joke. The seriously unfortunate rape joke directed at a character meant to be nine years old. My problem was not so much that the film used a rape joke (to be clear, I found it tasteless, but this sort of thing is subjective and let’s leave the argument at that), but that the joke was so lazy. Using a rape joke to demonstrate how much of a nonconformist the speaker is nothing more than a cliché, and not even the interesting kind of cliché that can still be twisted into something surprising. There’s no humor in the joke, only in the shock value of the joke being told, and any half-decent writer could cobble together a way to show how “extreme” the speaker is while still being funny in and of itself. Almost nothing annoys me more than seeing the cogs of a script, which is what happens when you throw in a bit that’s only there for a narrative purpose and lacks meaning of its own. Someone wanted to show that Bateman’s character don’t play by your rules, man, and so they used the most beaten dead horse device to do it.

There is a lot about this movie that is genuinely funny, and even more that is surprising and charming and entertaining. It’s just that it’s forgettable, and I wanted it to linger. It’s competent, in other words, but nothing more. I’m not going to discourage anyone from watching this movie – in fact, I might even recommend it – but no one’s going to be talking about it for too long after they leave the theater.

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