Very few child actors manage the pitfalls of the film industry as well as Jason Bateman. Unlike, say, Jodie Foster, who has had career ups and downs, Jason Bateman never really left the pop-cultural event horizon at all, tirelessly working his way through television, to small supporting roles in interesting films – like Juno – and wonderful failures – like “The Sweetest Thing.” From each role, it seems, he took something away, learned his craft, gave generous performances, developing, along the way, a dry comedic sensibility all his own. This, for lack of a better term, is the Jason Bateman comedic brand.
Bateman’s rise to the top of the comedic box office began, strangely enough, on the dourest of television dramas. He cut his chops on “Little House on the Prairie,” starring as an orphan adopted into the rather severe Ingalls family. From his years in entertainment, he has developed a powerful work ethic, drawing upon his established comedy brand, expanding into digital content creation in his co-venture with Will Arnett. DumbDumb, a comedy marketing venture started by the “Arrested Development” alums in 2010, already has had Obit Gum as a sponsor. “We’re the CEOs of DumbDumb, but that’s a hilarious moniker to give us,” Arnett told Papermag. “We’re actually co-chief executive dummies. That’s our official title.”
Perhaps it is the longevity of his career in the entertainment business — 30 years — but Bateman rarely seems to make mistakes or at least the magnitude of mistakes that have sidelined generations of child stars. He seems to have gotten all the partying out of his system. Bateman, further, is a good businessman, a virtue not many creatives, especially comedy minded creative, can claim. He told Howard Stern that he got some back-end from “Juno,” which would make him quite wealthy as well as smart for taking that risky role. “My goal is to get another 30 years out of this business,” Bateman told Men’s Health magazine in 2009. “So I need to figure out the fuel to do that. And so far, I think its respect and quality and company, not celebrity or box office or stardom. It’s not a sprinter’s approach. It’s more like a long-distance thing. You can stick around a lot longer if you kind of slow-play it.” Be grown up and the box office will follow.
Jason Bateman will be the first, however, to cop to some of his wonderful failures, like the horrendously unnecessary “Teen Wolf Too.” At the end of January, Bateman, on the Howard Stern Show, called the werewolf sequel, justly, “a shitty movie.” As usually happens, the subject of the Stern show turned towards the guest’s sowing of wild oats years. Bateman was unusually candid about his life before marriage and kids. “Because I worked so much as a little kid I made a concerted effort to play as hard as I was working and try to catch up.” He continued, “the reason it became a problem is because I wanted to start doing things that were more adult, which means you’ve got get up a little bit early in the morning. So I had to dial it down.” And dial it down he did.
That characteristic dry style evolved, over time, achieving its apex in “Arrested Development,” soon to come back to the small screen in season four. And he killed it in “Horrible Bosses,” where he had a memorable supporting role. That brings us up to date with Identity Thief. Identity Thief, poised finish in one of the top sports for the third week in a row, is proof positive that Bateman is now a box office comedy royal, capable of carrying a comedy all on his own. The Jason Bateman comedy brand – for lack of a better term – took 30 years to build. I look forward to 30 more, and you should too.