Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with this R Rated indie comedy that sees him attempting to drop his Mr.Put-Upon-Nice-Guy persona while starring in a film that doesn't exactly work without it.
Bateman plays Guy Trilby a foul mouthed, negative, man-child with a savant way with words who has, through a loop-hole and with the support of reporter Kathryn Hahn, entered the Golden Quill spelling bee much to the chagrin of it's organisers Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall and the parents of the children, the other participants.
The film is a short, well acted and competently directed, verbal, indie comedy. The humour is, at times, very rude, crude but pleasingly inventive and Bateman, especially, seems to be relishing the role. Good thing too as he holds the whole thing together.
Which is more than can be said for the script. The tagline to the film is 'the end justifies the mean' and the fact of the matter is, it really doesn't. Whether you find spelling competitions important or not, nothing really justifies the cruelty Guy Trilby unleashes on, not only, the people directly involved in the competition but just general people in the world, funny though a lot of it is. His personal vendetta effects way more people than the actual, solitary focus of it and I guess it's just down to Bateman's like-ability as an actor, the genuinely funny dialogue and the fact that we are stuck following him for the whole movie that keeps us, the audience, dubiously 'on his side'.
There is a sub-plot about his befriending a child, a fellow contestant, and 'tearing up' the town with him in the evenings which, I suppose, is intended to endear him to us a little and play to the rebel in all of us but some of the things they do, including causing a stolen lobster to lacerate a man's genitals, seem a tad cruel for no reason, as well.
Now before you think I am taking this all too seriously, let me explain. The film IS funny. Taken on face value, if you find vicious, dark, crude humour for the sake of it funny, then you are going to love it and there was much about it I did enjoy. Films, however, whether people like it or not, have to have characters, plots and motivations that make relative sense within their presented frame work and while "it's just a comedy" may excuse a lot of illogical or unforgivably cruel behaviour, the fact that the film, ultimately, asks us to give a hoot about this selfish, arrogant arse hole of a man means that we have to, at least, buy into the story and care a little, when it doesn't give us a lot of satisfactory reasons to.
Had he participated in the contest without cheating and eliminating some of his opponents in humiliating ways or had he befriended the kid, torn round the town but not hurt a man's penis with a large clawed sea creature then his character might have been a little more redeemable, while being no less funny.
There are echoes of Wes Anderson in the characters and the plot, especially Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums without, of course, it being anywhere nearly as charmingly presented or stylish.
A worthy debut, though, for Bateman as a director and interesting to see the R Rated comedy given the mumble core indie treatment.
7 out of 10