By William Wolf


In “Bad Words,” directed by Jason Bateman and unveiled at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, Guy Trilby, played by Bateman, is an obstreperous fellow who has the stubbornness to go where he is not wanted. The screenplay by Andrew Dodge turns the conventional notion of spelling bees upside down. They are customarily for school youngsters, but Trilby, who has an agenda that we don’t discover until late in the film, uses a technical loophole to enter spelling bees. So we find him standing as an adult among the kids, and since he is an excellent speller even though he dropped out of high school, he is positioned to win, much to the chagrin of those who hold the competitive events.

Insisting he should have the same rights as anybody else, he enters various contests, and as you can predict, he will wind up as a finalist in the big one. He stands out like a sore thumb sitting on a platform with the youngsters, and he earns the ire of bee director Dr. Bernice Deagan, played with hostility and contempt by Allison Janney, who will connive anything she can in an attempt to see that he loses.

Meanwhile, Trilby has made friends along the way in a relationship that begins antagonistically with a bright, determined boy named Chaitanya, and played with charm and smarts by Rohan Chand. He yearns to win, and we can expect them to eventually face off in the ultimate moment of trial.

Trilby is a nasty sort, but we understand his mission better when we learn why he is so intent on competing. It turns out to be a very personal reason. Apart from the malevolent, dark comedy interplay, the film provides an amusing and informative look at the spelling bee phenomenon and the pressures placed on young aspirants. We get to see the competition on two levels—that of the misanthropic adult entrant and the youngsters who hope to achieve victory rewarding their study of words, their meaning and how they are spelled. You can test yourself as the challenges are unfurled. Reviewed October 29, 2013.


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