“Arrested Development” star Jason Bateman made his directorial debut late last year with “Bad Words”, a comedy that has a deeper agenda than meets the eye. The Daily sat down with Bateman in a roundtable setting to talk about his experiences as the film’s director and star.
In a departure from the straight-laced family man he played on “Arrested Development,” “Bad Words” sees Bateman play 40-year-old Guy Trilby, a high school dropout who finds a loophole that allows him to enter The Golden Quill Spelling Bee. Even as he steamrolls over a succession of eighth graders, Trilby’s companion Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) attempts to figure out his true motivations behind his attempts at stealing the show.
Throughout “Bad Words,” Trilby comes off as a misanthrope who has no filter when it comes to speaking his mind. Bateman explained this was one of the reasons that drew him to the film.
“It was a challenge, this film,” he said. “There’s somebody [Guy Trilby] so unlikeable… but if it’s shot the right way, or performed the right way, or scored the right way… all of these things have to be done in fairly proper execution in order to make it palatable to offset the cynicism of this character.”
Trilby ends up befriending one of the contestants, 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) on the plane to the national spelling bee. A flurry of racist remarks ensues, which does nothing to dampen Chaitanya’s cheerful personality and persistence to befriend Trilby.
“We do some things that are a little uncomfortable in this film for certain people and I found peace with it because this guy is not as smart as you or me,” Bateman said. “He just doesn’t know any better. By the end of the film, he’s a little smarter, but I enjoy going to films to see a character make a bit of progression, or transformation.”
Bateman said he set out to “let the audience know that there is a deeper agenda at play here. There’s something going on that is not as sophomoric as the premise for the trailer or commercial that I knew was coming would indicate.”
“Bad Words” certainly features a number of startling moments. One sequence in particular involves Trilby taking the 10-year-old Chaitanya on a wild ride at night that culminates in a series of pranks and experiences that definitely come close to the line. In fact, when Bateman first sat down for this interview, he immediately asked if he had to apologize to anyone for the film. Everyone at the table broke out into laughter.
Ultimately, Bateman argued that “if you can communicate some humanity or some vulnerability, regardless of whether the character is a murderer or shit disturber like this guy, then people can come in and enjoy what’s going on inside that environment. You try to find a way to make him human and flawed and relatable.”
“Bad Words” ends up showing that a misunderstood, foul-mouthed cynic can indeed grow on you, as Bateman successfully adds a touch of charm and charisma that rids the viewer of any aftertaste that might remain from the outrageous nature of the film.
Contact Alicia Hamar at ahamar22 “at” stanford.edu.