Tag Archives: B

BAD WORDS

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

B

Like its lead character Guy Trilby, this first directorial effort from Jason Bateman (who also stars) is foul-mouthed but sweet underneath. If vulgar language doesn’t offend you overmuch, you’ll find “Bad Words” an engagingly off-color way to spend an hour-and-a-half.

Andrew Dodge’s script spoofs such well-meaning movies about spelling contests as “Spellbound” and “Akeelah and the Bee.” Bateman’s Trilby is an intense, acerbic forty-year old proofreader who takes advantage of the clumsily written rules for the national Golden Quills competition to become a contestant. The first act shows him joining the elementary-school children on stage at a regional event, creaming the kids not only with his knowledge but his penchant for putting them down and psyching them out. When confronted by infuriated parents, he responds with withering insults before being spirited off by Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), a reporter serving as his sponsor while researching an article on him—and more than willing to join him in the sack while doing so.

Before long Guy’s at the national finals in Los Angeles, a hallowed event presided over by officious Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney), who makes it her mission to drive Trilby away using whatever means are at her disposal, underhanded or not—she even sees to it that he’s assigned a supply closet as his motel room. One can understand her rage: not only is the competition her baby, but parents—like the irate Mrs. Tai (Rachael Harris)—who have been driving their offspring to win are growing increasingly angry, and Deagan is operating under the watchful eye of Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall), the distinguished academic who founded the event and is serving as a TV commentator for it.

Even more consequential is the effort of one of the other contestants, little Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), to bond with Trilby, who initially brushes him off with his customary abruptness but rethinks his attitude when he learns that the boy enjoys a nice room, complete with a mini-bar, without benefit of a chaperone. Before long Guy is lounging in the kid’s bed and putting up with his incessantly bubbly chatter. He responds by taking Chaitanya out for a night on the town and teaching him all sorts of bad habits. It’s here that the movie slips into sentimental mode, at least to some extent, thanks to Chand’s undeniable charm and Bateman’s ability to show a touch of tenderness beneath Guy’s caustic armor. But the comic bite is never too distant, returning in a nice narrative twist.

“Bad Words” eventually reveals all—Trilby’s motivation in trying to destroy the Golden Quills, the reason behind Chaitanya’s cultivation of him, the ultimate outcome of the contest—in ways that are a mite too tidy and conventional, in screenwriting terms. But the expertise of Janney and Hall helps to put the material across even when it gets saccharine or contrived, and Chand’s ingratiating presence never turns into mere sitcom squishiness. Hahn is hampered by a pretty thankless role, though she puts it across as well as can be expected, and the supporting cast (including other spellers whom Trilby mercilessly demolishes, as well as the contest’s bank of announcers and lesser officials) is excellent. Ken Sang’s cinematography, Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing and Rolf Kent’s score add to the professional feel.

In the end, though, “Bad Words” is Bateman’s film, no less for the skill he shows in giving the ensemble work spit and polish, but for the note of gleeful nastiness he brings to Dodge’s stream of brutal invective. Abandoning his usual persona of befuddled niceness, he recaptures the sense of cunning he first exhibited on his unsuccessful eighties sitcom “It’s Your Move,” and it works beautifully here even when his character evinces a Twinkies-style marshmallow center.

One can imagine the material being taken in a darker direction than Dodge and Bateman’s, but if the movie isn’t as uncompromising as it might have been, it’s still has a satisfying quotient of sourness to go along with the sweet.

ON MY WAY (ELLE S’EN VA)

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

B

A road trip that takes a middle-aged restaurateur from disenchantment to prospective happiness is the subject of Emmanuelle Bercot’s loosely structured, sporadically engaging film, which serves primarily as a star vehicle for French screen icon Catherine Deneuve but also features some pleasant supporting turns, particularly from the director’s young son Nemo Schiffman.

Deneuve plays Bettie, a former beauty queen (Miss Brittany of 1969) who finds her life unraveling. Her restaurant is on the brink of bankruptcy, and her long affair collapses when the man dumps her for a younger woman. Meanwhile at home she suffers the querulous demands of her aged mother Annie (Claude Gensac). Feeling trapped, she spontaneously jumps in the car and drives off, with no destination in mind.

But she has decided to take up smoking again, and the search for cigarettes leads her on an adventurous journey, though one with plenty of rough spots. She winds up at a roadside bar, where she gets monumentally drunk and dons a pink fright wig before going off for the night with a roguish thug named Marco (Paul Hamy), who the following morning offers the ungentlemanly observation that Bettie must have once been very beautiful. Her other encounters have an equally discursive, aimless quality, emphasizing the fact that Bettie is at a crossroads in her life in which all the directions are unpromising.

That changes when she gets a pleading phone call from her long-estranged daughter Muriel (Camille), asking her to drive her eleven-year old son Charly (Schiffman) to his grandfather’s. She agrees with surprising enthusiasm, and even though the trip to pick the kid up brings more unplanned delays (she arrives late, after Muriel has already departed for a new job), the inevitable process of her and the boy bonding as they drive several hundred miles together begins.

This section of the film might have gone completely off track had the chemistry between Deneuve and Schiffman not worked, and if the increasingly affectionate relationship had been drawn in too cute a fashion. As it is, Schiffman is a winning scene-stealer, but he can also handle the moments when Charly is obstinate or obnoxious, and Deneuve matches him beat for beat. There are digressions in this section as well—notably a side trip to the reunion of the 1969 contest competitors, where Charly becomes the darling of the aging women while Bettie suffers a medical emergency—but overall the central pairing is so agreeable that the film skirts the perils of saccharine potholes.

At this point enters Alain (Gerard Garouste), who agrees—none too happily at first—to have Bettie accompany him and Charly back to his estate. Alain is the mayor of his village, and engaged in a tough election to boot, but inevitably he and Bettie finds that they have things in common, and Muriel’s unexpected arrival adds to a familial feel that ends things on an upbeat note.

But if, as in so many road movies, the destination is foreordained, “On My Way” offers many pleasures getting there—particularly Deneuve, who remains luminous at seventy even when disheveled, and the back-and-forth between her and Schiffman, who never becomes just another precocious sitcom child. One can imagine a more lustrous take on the French countryside than Guillaume Schiffman’s rather workmanlike cinematography affords, but that would probably have been at odds with the picture’s gruff manner, and the absence of an intrusive music score—the preference is for pop tunes—falls into the same category.

The result is a pleasant chance to spend some time with a screen icon, and well as with a tyke you won’t find insufferable.