The actor Jason Bateman makes a sure-footed debut as a director with “Bad Words,” a comedy that’s scathingly funny and unexpectedly sweet.
Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a wholly unlikable 40-year-old loser who finds a loophole to enter the Golden Quill competition, a national spelling bee meant for preteen competitors. He can spell quite well, but his favorite words are “psychological manipulation,” which he uses to get into the heads of his child rivals.
The competition officials (Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall) try to outflank him, while a harried reporter (Kathryn Hahn) tries to figure him out (when they’re not having angry sex) — but the key to Guy’s game may be revealed when he befriends the lonely Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), an overachieving 9-year-old.
Rookie writer Andrew Dodge loads Guy up with plenty of profane verbal artillery, which Bateman deploys with devastating effect. But Bateman, as director, also finds the warm heart underneath the raunch.
Opens today at area theaters; rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity; 88 minutes.