“Absquatulate” was the hardest word Jason Bateman had to learn for his new movie, Bad Words, which hits theaters March 21. The word means to leave, flee or depart in a hurry, but the film — Bateman’s directorial debut — will make you do everything but absquatulate the movie theater.
The Arrested Development actor is no stranger to the camera, and when the opportunity arose to get behind it to direct his first feature film, his familiarity showed.
“It’s such a comfortable place for me to be, in front of the camera, so much so that I’m able to keep an eye on the other parts of the process. That’s why I wanted to do the directing,” Bateman said, crossing his legs as he sat in the corner of a sofa in the Park Hyatt hotel near the historic Water Tower. This was the setting for the college press interview with the star in which the PHOENIX participated. “I’m attracted to things that have a very specific tone, and the odds of hitting that tone, that target, greatly increase if you are behind the camera.”
The results are predictably amusing. Irreverence, obscenity and an hour-and-a-half of sarcasm and political incorrectness make the film an enjoyable experience — not necessarily because of the script by newcomer Andrew Dodge, which makes too many easy choices favoring somewhat predictable story twists, but because of Bateman’s sharp instincts and his own notion of what makes things funny.
In Bad Words, Bateman, who also stars as the protagonist, goes against type and all character logic and makes a return to his bad-boy beginnings to play Guy Trilby, a malcontent 40-year-old who crashes a spelling bee.
“Honestly, my initial reaction was ‘Who needs to see another spelling bee movie?’” Bateman said with the dry, sarcastic humor often seen in his characters. “I was not as excited about that part of it, but once I read it, I realized that that’s just simply a venue where this very human and fairly emotional story takes place.”
Rarely has a title been so appropriate in a film, as this movie embraces profane tastes with little-to-no restraint. Trilby’s behavior is racist, sexist, cruel and oftentimes flat-out illegal, but Bateman delivers this indecency in his low-key, deadpan style and makes it incredibly funny.
His taste for deeply flawed characters – the sort of guy you like precisely because it’s really hard to like him – has made him a favorite in the industry.
“I just refuse to believe that you can only make people laugh if the colors are super saturated and the lenses are wide-angled. I think that you can make a film look and feel like a kind of raw section of society and still have that be funny,” Bateman said. “What makes me laugh is being exposed to people’s vulnerabilities and flaws and frailties … This guy [Trilby] is antagonistic to be sure, but it is because he is deeply flawed, because he is not very advanced spiritually or emotionally. He’s a little backward; when he gets his feelings hurt he does not pick a very responsible way to mend those hurt feelings, so we get a comedy out of it.”
“There’s a lot of comedy in this drama. It’s not funny to anybody in the movie, so that was attractive to me,” he said. “It was important to me that this comedy did not look like a typical comedy.”
And a typical comedy it is not, as Bateman’s snappy, obscene comedy-drama hybrid has more than one twist sure to change your perception of every character involved.
As for Bateman’s future, the actor-turned-director is co-starring with Tina Fey in This is Where I Leave You and is starting the production of another feature film, The Family Fang, as both director and actor alongside Nicole Kidman.
Bateman’s first experience as director of a feature film left him with a thirst for more, so expect to see many directorial titles coming his way.
“I’m not as excited about convincing someone that I’m different than who I am as I am excited to create a convincing fake world for them to be in for an hour-and-a-half,” he said. “I’m more drawn to directing. I’d love to do any kind of films as a director, because it’s just a different creative process. … I look forward to doing many more films if they have me.”