How ‘Bad Words’ paved the way for Jason Bateman to ‘Ozark’

Jason Bateman’s character did some bad, bad things over the four seasons of “Ozark.”

Audiences can root for him, just as they did with James Gandolfini’s work in “The Sopranos” or Bryan Cranston’s meth chef in “Breaking Bad.”

How did the cute kid from “The Hogan Family” turn into a well-heeled monster for the Netflix smash?

Blame “Bad Words”.

The 2013 dark comedy cast Bateman as a misfit in a children’s spelling contest. Of course, the comic actor made us laugh, but the pain of this character stopped us.

The Bateman-directed film paved the way for his stunning “Ozark” transformation. And that’s one more movie that they can’t make today.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old who is about to beat an eighth-grade bee spelling contest.


Guy exploits a loophole in the competition’s rules to enter as an adult, and he has the spell skills to bridge the gap. He is supported by an ignorant reporter (Kathryn Hahn, the weakest element of the film through no fault of her own) and a burning desire to rise to the top.


This is the film’s biggest mystery, and the one that makes Guy’s brutal behavior return. He has a very clever and cunning whip, and anyone who gets past him learns that lesson the hard way. Bateman delivers everything with the utmost cruelty, and his comic book series ensures that those barbs land. Hard.

And then we meet Chaitanya (Rohan Chand, very interesting). He’s a bee’s spell competitor with a honey-sweet smile. Chaitanya and Guy begin a strange friendship, with the older competitor teaching him about stealing, drinking, and female anatomy.

It’s oddly reminiscent of Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) plying his pre-teen players with alcohol in 1976’s “The Bad News Bears.”

Wrong, of course, but in the context of “Bad Words” is both funny and bright. To say exactly why would spoil the big reveal for those who missed the comedy the first time ’round.

So why doesn’t a movie studio make “Bad Words” these days?


Let’s start with Gil’s potty mouth. He takes down some women in the coldest way possible, a taboo for modern day scolding. It’s patriarchy…on steroids!

Plus, he calls young Chaitanya a “Slumdog” and other ethnic disparages, something that is inevitable in our hypercognitive climate.

Does it reveal Guy’s shocking eagerness or the fact that he treats the boy like a boy, not a learning machine like his biological father?

Of course not. We can’t have certain characters behaving badly in certain ways. Now, if Guy is a contract killer, all will be forgiven.

Critics object to Guy’s languageeven in 2013 before the wave of revolution changed the landscape of film commentary.

We need us to find his racist, taciturn, callous, and inappropriate humor.

Yes Yes.

Sometimes (many times) inappropriate behavior is funny. Just ask the rapscallions behind the “Jackass” franchise, to get started.

What they lacked, of course, was the reason why Guy became who he was. And, if no one reveals again, critics may also disapprove of that basic message.

However, this is Bateman’s showcase in many ways. “Bad Words” was his directorial debut, and he returned to that gig during his tenure on “Ozark.”

He learns fast.

The actor’s next directing contract, 2015’s “The Family Fang,” proved adequate but barely memorable. “Bad Words” captivated viewers from the opening scene, and Bateman’s willingness to plunge into the darkest depths of his character made “Ozark” a reality.

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