"Bad Words" is the sort of movie you laugh at. Then, upon reflection, you think, "Maybe that wasn't so funny. Maybe a grown-up should not treat a child like that, and maybe, if I claim to be grown up, I shouldn't be laughing." Okay, it's not exactly child abuse; still, it's not responsible behavior.
But, then, Guy Trilby in voice-over tells us from the start that he does not make good decisions, that he's had a lifetime of poor choices. "I'm not that good at a lot of stuff," he confesses, "especially thinking things through." That would include, so it seems, not graduating beyond the eighth grade, for that is the loophole Guy uses to enter a spelling bee in Columbus, Ohio. He has proof on his transcript that he never made it past eighth grade, which is the cut-off for entrants in this little contest of spellers. When another adult asks him if he's the father of one of contestants, Guy says, "No, I'm the winner of the contest."
He advances to the finals of the Golden Quill, accompanied by a reporter for an on-line publication, serving as his sponsor into the contest. She is trying to pump him for the motive, but he remains close-mouthed. Except when he's at the microphone, spelling words like "oleaginous," which he is at times. The two are more fornicators than friends.
Then a small boy, left by his parents to learn independence, tries to be his friend. This boy has chocolate-drop eyes and is precocious and may remind Guy of himself as a boy, all brain and no friends. The two share a night of debauchery that includes a lobster. Let's just say that balls were busted.
Rohan Chand plays the 10-year-old, and he is a delight to watch, but one has to wonder what the child thought when he was put in this situation with a childish adult character. Kathryn Hahn, a consummate comedian, plays the girl reporter to Jason Bateman's boy speller; she is marvelous, as always. He is pretty darn good as the betrayed man seeking revenge. Allison Janney, who proves her comedy chops on television's "Mom," is excellent as the severe director of the bee. Also at the bee are Beth Grant and Ben Falcone, as announcers, and Philip Baker Hall as the grandfather of the contest.
Bateman directed his vanity film, based on Andrew Dodge's clever screenplay, and Bateman does a good job of pacing, especially with the wordless montage of the boys' night out (the one with the lobster). But after the laughter, "Bad Words" invites some soul-searching -- probably not what Bateman wants.