Directed by Jake Kasdan
Screenplay by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey
Lucy Punch as Amy Squirrel
Jason Segel as Russell Gettis
Justin Timberlake as Scott Delacorte
Phyllis Smith as Lynn Davies
How long is Bad Teacher? 92 minutes
What is Bad Teacher rated? ‘R’ for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
Warm And Fuzzy Is For Losers
Director Jake Kasdan, most recently known by many for directing Orange County and Walk Hard, had made us yet another comedy we can enjoy for the summer before tucking it away into the corners of fond but vague memory. Bad Teacher is not destined to be remembered, but packs more punch than some are already saying. Its chief problem is that owing to foul language, heavy sexual themes, brief drug use, and a couple of breasts it must necessarily carry an R rating. However, the script shows surprising restraint in most areas, and as such can barely be called a raunchy comedy. Believe it or not, it probably would have been funnier had some of the characters been far nastier.
At the same time, it is refreshing to see that someone can still write a story about a depressed, self-absorbed, completely unethical teacher without being hobbled by concerns of political correctness or what “message” such a story sends. Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) is a jilted sex bomb on an all-consuming quest to find a moneyed hubby. Her first priority, aside from snaring the man himself, is to raise enough money for breast augmentation, which she feels is the key to making herself the perfect trophy wife.
Meanwhile, she is stuck in a middle school teaching job whose actual duties she avoids like the plague. To the delight of her students, this means that all they do is watch movies about education, such as Stand And Deliver and Dangerous Minds while she nurses a series of savage hangovers. Eventually, a series of get-rich opportunities motivate her to show off her latent cunning and even a certain measure of actual teaching ability – that is, until she finds a wholly unsavory shortcut which runs afoul of her beloved Edward James Olmos. Enough said about that. Edward James Olmos does not appear in the film, but the smirking tribute to Stand And Deliver is plain.
All right, let’s get this out of the way. When everyone hears the name Bad Teacher and hears a basic summary of this movie, an immediate (almost involuntary) comparison to Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa comes to mind. Depending on where you stand on that particular exercise in the raging nasties, it may color your expectations about this completely unrelated romp. It deals with very similar themes, particularly as Elizabeth begins to open up to those students whose desperate need for worldly counsel breaks down her ruthless indifference to them. It might be argued that Kasdan, already stuck with an R rating, might have made Elizabeth a great deal more reprehensible and her kids a lot more stunted and pathetic. Unfortunately, the further he went down that road the more overwhelming comparisons to Billy Bob Thornton and Bad Santa would have become. Zwigoff admittedly went a bit too far, but there must be someone out there who can strike a balance. They used to make really fantastic adult comedies, like Eating Raoul and Ruthless People. I think they still could.
Speaking of which, praise is due to the supporting adult cast, who supply the extra laughs that the script denies Elizabeth’s potentially colorful but sadly underdrawn students. When introduced to the soft-headed bunch of folks with whom she shares her teacher’s lounge, you may become positively sympathetic to Elizabeth’s hateful attitude. Her archnemesis is Amy (Lucy Punch), one of those sickly sweet people whose bubbly attitude and cute euphemisms for swear words unfailingly mask emotional instability. John Michael Higgins, who cannot be overused in a movie like this (but sadly, yes, can be underused), appears as the perpetually befuddled principal whom the two ladies insistently play against one another. Justin Timberlake, who seems to be enjoying the acting game very much, plays the handsome new substitute with a lot of family money. Elizabeth falls for his inheritance, and Amy falls for the touchy-feely platitudes he spouts at every opportunity. YES! This movie is no master stroke of screenwriting, but the story finds sufficient dramatic conflict to fuel a heated rivalry.
Let us not forget the film’s two genuinely lovable characters, who anchor the farce with a little bit of heart. Elizabeth’s only friend at work is Lynn (Phyllis Smith), whose neurotic, slow-witted kindness brings out a more human side in the bad teacher. Meanwhile, gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) fills the role of potential lover and soul mate – the dork with no money, who nonetheless understands and appreciates Elizabeth in ways she will only recognize near the end of the film. For a similar case, recall Chris O’Dowd as the highway cop in Bridesmaids. Could learning that someone else cares for her fill the void originally reserved for Elizabeth’s boob job? Find out this weekend in… Bad Teacher! If you want.
Critics will no doubt level their arrows at the thin story and numerous unresolved plot threads. That and why Eric Stonestreet (of Modern Family) got such a small part. But come on! This movie is meant to be driven by characters, and fortunately each one of them delivers with suitable gusto. Amoral yet anything but mean-spirited, Bad Teacher offers breezy summer fun and nothing more. Even more than Kasdan’s other efforts, Bad Teacher plays a lot like Zero Effect, which features Bill Pullman as a modern day, pill-addicted Sherlock Holmes. He too is completely wrapped up in himself from a combination of environment and personality problems. So it is with this movie, and who are we not to empathize? Elizabeth gets to act the way all teachers would like to at their worst, with zero consequences. For that matter, anyone in the throes of nine-to-five funk, saddled with insufferable clients or irritating co-workers, will appreciate the appeal of this fantasy. Bad Teacher is exactly that: a custom-fit fantasy for the self-involved and childish at heart. If you want something more edifying than that, well… good luck this summer. Bad Teacher will not change your life, but you will not consider your movie money wasted.