Jason Bateman on directing his young stars in 'Bad Words'
Jason Bateman is about as good a spokesman as any movie can have, and when he's finally making the jump to be a director as well as an actor, he's got plenty of reason to turn on the charm.
When I was at the Four Seasons recently, I was in the first group of people talking to him in the morning, and I was sitting outside the room where we were going to speak along with four other people. When he came walking up, he stopped and looked down at all of us, smiling. "Hey, how about we just do this out here, press conference style? Right now. Let's go."
Bateman and I are pretty much the same age, and I feel like I've been watching him on TV my whole life. I have strong memories of him on "Little House In The Prairie" and, in particular, "Silver Spoons," where he perfected the art of being smug. There was something so gleefully rotten about Derek, the kid he played, that it sort of set him as a certain type right away. Bateman never really got roles as likable as the roles given to Michael J. Fox, but it felt like he got the scripts that Fox passed on, a tendency that reached its apex when he starred in "Teen Wolf Too."
One of the reasons I admire Bateman is because he reinvented his career, and he's become such an effective comedy weapon that he can play both really awful people and very sympathetic leads. The main reason "Arrested Development" really works is because he and Michael Cera represent the only hope for human decency that the Bluth family has, and Bateman feels like the empathetic center of the family. He's still an idiot, just like everyone else in the Bluth clan, but at least he's trying to be better than them. He's struggling to raise a good kid, and for the most part, he's pulling it off.
In "Bad Words," his character is in no position to be a father. He's barely a functional adult. There's some great perverse fun to be had from watching just how terribly Bateman treats all the kids in the film, and I don't feel bad enjoying it because I'm sure in reality, he was a better-than-average collaborator for the young actors. After all, if anyone knows how they'd want to be spoken to, it would be him. It's pretty clear when you see the film, too. Every kid in the movie is above average, and I don't think there's a single false note from any of their performances.
Bateman also seems very complimentary of Andrew Dodge and his script, and I like that. He knows that this is one of those pieces that took a simple premise and then executed it juuuuuuuust right, and as a director, he delivers on that tone. He knew how to play it as an actor, and he embraces it, relishing every bit of awful behavior.
I am excited to see what he's up to next, and I think we'll get a lot more of Jason Bateman, movie director, in the years ahead. Based on "bad Words," that would seem to be good news.
"Bad Words" opens in limited release on Friday, May 14th.