The list of dreadful things that Guy Trilby does in the black comedy Bad Words in pursuit of the championship of a kids' national spelling bee is very long, indeed.
The first, to begin with, is his gall in entering the bee. Trilby, a 40-year-old with either a genius IQ or a photographic memory, has found a loophole in the rules ( he never graduated high school ) that allows him to enter the contest. After winning at the local level, he heads to the finals, where his intimidating behavior toward the other contestants ( most of it while on stage, towering over his pint-sized competitors ) is utterly appalling. The mystery is why Trilby is even on stage with a bunch of preteens.
Without the mystery as a relief from the Bad Santa behavior or the fact that Trilby is played by the enormously likeable Jason Bateman, the movie wouldn't have a chance of redeeming itself ( and forget about a lot of Trilby's jawdropping audacity ). But with those factors in place, it holdshilariously sofor a long time. It doesn't hurt that Batemanmaking his directorial debut and working from a script by first-time writer Andrew Dodgesurrounds himself with comic actors with crack timing who make even the film's weakest moments sizzle. ( Kathryn Hahn as an insecure, love hungry journalist, Allison Janney as the head of the bee, Rachael Harris as the seriously pissedoff mom of another contestant, Beth Grant as a speechless pageant official and Steve Witting as a proctor are standouts. )
The heart of the film is the growing relationship between Trilby and Chaitainya ( Rohan Chand ), a perky 10-year-old Indian contestant with no friends who swats away the verbal brickbats like so many flies and whose innocence doesn't seem too affected by Trilby's attempts at corrupting him. The relationship is a variation of one that the movies have always loved: the cranky old sourpuss paired with the endearing child whose optimism redeems the codger. The arc of this friendship gives the film somewhere to go as the mystery element is revealed too quickly, is not particularly satisfying and is too pat. ( It involves Philip Baker Hall, as the bee's elder statesmen. )
But Bateman, who I've noted before, is one of those actors whose immense warmth can't be concealed no matter how disagreeable the character ( Sandra Bullock has this same effect on audiences ) and he manages ( along with those funny actorsthough Janney should have been kept around much longer ) to keep the fraying edges in Bad Words forgivable.
Briefly noted: Jim Broadbent is surely one of England's greatest character actors. Broadbent, who first broke through in film in 1991's Enchanted April, has essayed dozens of notable characters since. ( He is probably most memorable as the club owner/ringmaster in Moulin Rouge. ) Broadbent adds to his growing gallery of wonderful characters in Le Week-End with Nick Burrows, a philosophy professor at a University in Birmingham who heads to Paris with Meg ( played by the always welcome Lindsay Duncan ), his still-luscious wife, so the couple can celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the city where they honeymooned. From the start, things do not go well. Then they do. Then they don't again. And on and off the marriage merry-go-round goes on for the rest of this life-changing weekend that reaffirms not only a lot for this complicated couple but a lot for the audience who will recognize in their all-too-human frailties, fantasies and foibles many of our own. It's not often that we get a film centered on characters more than 60 years old ( a breath of fresh air in itself )and certainly not a romantic comedy. Le Week-End is not quite a comedy ( even though there are many humorous moments ) but it is very romantic and director Roger Michell utilizes the Paris locations as a lush point/counterpoint to all the nitpicking and ruminating that these two wonderful actors engage in as Nick and Lindsay wander about the City of Lights in this insightful little movie.
Film notes: The 17th Annual European Union Film Festival, the yearly series celebrating the best of the EU, has been going on at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., since the beginning of the month. The fest is always a great place to be the first in Chicago to see a slew of great indie flavored moviesincluding the occasional queer-themed one as well. Though the fest has already screened the riveting What Now? Remind Me, the Portuguese docudrama and Run & Jump, an Irish entry starring Will Forte, there are a few more on the horizon worth noting.
The first of these is Angela Christlieb's Naked Opera from Luxembourg, in which a middleaged man with a chronic illness decides to indulge his passion for opera by traveling around Europe seeing as many productions of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" as he can while engaging in a lot of gay sex with rent boys and porn stars along the way. The film is presented as a documentary though it's pretty clear that many of the set pieces were staged. The film is a quasi- Auntie Mame with the man lecturing his tricks on the importance of art and literature. Screens Saturday, March 22 at 9:15 and Wed., March 26, at 8:15 p.m.
The other film with major queer themes is Jan Hrebejk's Honeymoon, the fest's closingnight feature from the Czech Republic. The movie centers on the wedding weekend of a very photogenic couple ( the groom is a heavyset dead ringer for Michael Fassbender ) attended by family and close friends. The festivities are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious stranger who wants the bride to know exactly what kind of man she's marrying. It's not the usual closeted gay thing one expects and makes for a very compelling movie. The movie screens twiceSunday, March 30, at 3 p.m. and Thursday, April 3, at 6 p.m. Hrebejk will attend the latter screening. Complete festival information at www.siskelfilmcenter.org
Cinema Q IV, the fourth annual LGBTthemed movie series, continues tonight with the delightful German gay themed comingof- age dramedy Summer Storm, about a summer camp for rowing teams. The arrival of the Queer Strokesthe gay rowing team from Berlin shakes up the discipline of the camp and causes one young man to realize his true sexuality. The Goethe-Institut co-sponsors the screening.
The series concludes Wed., March 26, with a 6:30 p.m. screening of the 2004 biopic/musical De-Lovely about the gay composer Cole Porter.
It stars Kevin Kline as Cole and Ashley Judd as his mostly understanding wife. The screenings will take place at Claudia Cassidy Theater within the Chicago Culrural Center, 73 E. Washington St. The Queer Film Society ( of which I'm president ), the Legacy Project, Reeling Film Festival and Affinity Community Services are presenting the series in partnership with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Windy City Times, ChicagoPride and the Reader are media sponsors. The screenings are free. www.queerfilmsociety.org
The Rainbow Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge Ave., presents the 2009 lesbian romantic drama Hannah Free, from director Wendy Jo Carlton, on Friday, March 21, at 7 p.m. ( Doors open at 6:30. ) Sharon Gless stars in the film, which is based on Claudia Allen's award-winning play that was shot locally and featuring many familiar Chicago actors. Windy City Times Publisher/Executive Editor Tracy Baim produced the film and will be part of a panel discussion following the screening that will also feature editor/producer Sharon Zurek as well as actors Taylor Miller and Maureen