Jason Bateman’s character did some terrible, no-good things in four seasons of “Ozark.”
Audiences likely rooted him on, much like they did with James Gandolfini’s work on “The Sopranos” or Bryan Cranston’s meth cook in “Breaking Bad.”
How did the cute kid from “The Hogan Family” transition into a well-heeled monster for the Netflix smash?
Blame “Bad Words.”
The 2013 dark comedy cast Bateman as a misanthrope crashing a kiddie spelling competition. The comic actor made us laugh, of course, but his character’s pain gave us pause.
That film, directed by Bateman, paved the way for his stunning “Ozark” transformation. And it’s one more movie they couldn’t make today.
Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old preparing to crush the competition at an eighth grade spelling bee.
Guy exploits a loophole in the competition’s rules to enter as an adult, and he has the spelling chops to go the distance. He’s aided by a clueless reporter (Kathryn Hahn, the film’s weakest element through no fault of her own) and a burning desire to come out on top.
It’s the film’s biggest mystery, and one that takes a back seat to Guy’s brutal behavior. He’s whip smart and cunning, and anyone who crosses him learns that lesson the hard way. Bateman delivers every put down with maximum cruelty, and his comic chops ensure those barbs land. Hard.
And then we meet Chaitanya (Rohan Chand, delightful). He’s a fellow spelling bee competitor with a smile as sweet as molasses. Chaitanya and Guy strike up a curious friendship, with the older competitor teaching him about stealing, booze and the female anatomy.
It’s oddly reminiscent of Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) plying his pre-teen players with booze in 1976’s “The Bad News Bears.”
It’s wrong, of course, but in the context of “Bad Words” both funny and illuminating. To say exactly why would spoil the big reveal for those who missed the comedy the first time ’round.
So why wouldn’t a film studio make “Bad Words” today?
Let’s start with Gil’s potty mouth. He dresses down several women in the coldest way possible, a no-no for modern scolds. It’s the Patriarchy … on steroids!
Plus, he refers to young Chaitanya as “Slumdog” and other ethnic slurs, a secondary no-no in our hyper-aware climate.
Does it matter that it reveals Guy’s eagerness to shock, or the fact that he treats the lad like a boy, not a studying machine like his biological Dad?
Of course not. We can’t have certain characters behaving badly in certain ways. Now, if Guy was a contract killer, all would be forgiven.
Bad words (2014)
Dir; Jason Bateman pic.twitter.com/7y64cn8d2h
— Name cannot be blank (@crybabeedeede) June 15, 2021
Critics recoiled at Guy’s language, even back in 2013 before the woke revolution changed the face of film commentary.
It needs us to find his racism, misogyny, callousness, and impropriety funny.
Sometimes (many times) inappropriate behavior is funny. Just ask the rapscallions behind the “Jackass” franchise, for starters.
What they’re missing, of course, are the reasons why Guy became who he is. And, without spoilers again, critics may not approve that underlying message, either.
Still, this is Bateman’s showcase in more ways than one. “Bad Words” is his directorial debut, and he returned to that gig throughout his tenure on “Ozark.”
He’s a fast study.
The actor’s follow-up directorial gig, 2015’s “The Family Fang,” proved adequate but hardly memorable. “Bad Words” singes the viewer from the opening scene, and Bateman’s willingness to plunge the darkest depths of his character made “Ozark” a reality.