A film review by Craig J. Koban June 28, 2011
2011, R, 92 mins.
2011, R, 92 mins.
Elizabeth Halsey: Cameron Diaz / Scott Delacorte: Justin
Timberlake / Russell Gettis: Jason Segel / Amy Squirrel: Lucy
Punch / Principal John: Michael Higgins / Lynn Davies: Phyllis
is a fundamental difference between a daring comedy and a dirty
comedy. Daring comedies are
often scathing satires that have ambition with the sort of decrepit levels
they go to for laughs. Dirty
comedies are just that: filthy mouthed and minded.
Jake Kasdan’s BAD TEACHER desperately wants to be a daring
comedy, but it struggles to do so an unavoidably just emerges as a dirty
one. Considering Kasdan’s
(son of Lawrence) past track record of solid comedies (like ZERO EFFECT
and ORANGE COUNTY) BAD TEACHER is a clunky, incardinated, and
Comparisons of this film to
BAD SANTA are inevitable, most likely because they share the word
“bad” in their respective titles and they both contain lead characters
that are borderline redemption-free losers.
The difference, though, with Billy Bob Thornton’s character in
BAD SANTA was that he was almost haplessly pathetic, so much so that you
started to almost feel sorry for what a sad sack of shit he was.
That’s the main problem with BAD TEACHER: its educator (played in
a game performance by Cameron Diaz, refreshingly playing against her stock
type of sunny and easily likeable personas) is that she is so utterly
repellent that you never once grow to like to hate her.
She is so wholeheartedly charmless, vulgar, uncultured, and
uncaring of just about everyone and everything around her that you never
develop a rooting interest in her at all. She’s
just, I dunno...a valueless bitch…and not much more.
Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey,
who is probably the worst on-screen teacher I’ve seen in a film since
Bradley Cooper’s middle school instructor stole his class' field trip
money to help fund his buddy’s bachelor party in Vegas in THE HANGOVER.
Elizabeth is slumming in her 30’s, shallow, infantile, lazy,
heartless, self-centered, and completely uncensored. She is also a schemer and a manipulative gold digger.
During the opening of the film she kisses her teaching job goodbye,
mostly because she is about to wed her very rich fiancé.
However, his mother steps in and correctly deduces that Elizabeth
only loves her son for his money. They
confront her and Elizabeth steadfastly denies the accusation.
He quickly retorts by asking her when is his birthday: when she
feebly forgets that it is the day of their confrontation, she tries to
make up for it by giving him a $37 gift card to a restaurant.
Actually, she is re-gifting the card: she was given it as a going-away
present from her school’s teaching faculty.
Needless to say, her former
husband-to-be gives Elizabeth the boot and she desperately makes an effort
to find an affluent new sugar daddy.
The only thing she requires – in her estimation – is a nice new
set of tataas via a costly $10,000 surgery.
Down on her luck and with virtually no money in her account, she
returns as a junior high teacher at the school she just left and, within
her very first day, she comes to class apparently hungover, under-slept,
and unwilling to teach the youth of tomorrow.
Her first day of education involves publicly criticizing the
cookies that a keener student’s mother made for her in front of the
entire class, followed by her showing the students STAND AND DELIVER.
She later follows that film with screenings of LEAN ON ME and
DANGEROUS MINDS. Something
tells me that none of those films are on the curriculum.
Elizabeth sees a spark of
optimism in her otherwise miserable situation: she comes across an
attractive, if not a bit geeky and preppy, new substitute teacher named
Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) that, as luck with have it, is totally
loaded. Her attempts to woe him are stunted by the efforts of a
fellow teacher named, yes, Miss Squirrel (Lucy Punch) a red-haired and
aggressively – almost antagonistically – nice and pleasant minded
colleague that’s so annoyingly and fundamentally G-rated and pleasant
that you’re not really sure whether you should hate her or Elizabeth
more. Nonetheless, Miss
Squirrel starts to battle Elizabeth for the affections of Mr. Delecorte
and Elizabeth becomes so blind in her mission to court the sub that she
ignores the obvious flirtatious pick up attempts of a kindly, soft-spoken,
but deceptively with-it gym teacher named Russell (Jason Segal).
On a positive, BAD TEACHER is
an unapologetically R-rated raunch fest with no heart or scruples
A sanitized, PG-13 version of this material was probably enticing
to make it see the light of day with a wider audience, so I can appreciate Kasdan and
screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (of TV’s THE OFFICE)
willingness to not sugarcoat anything.
There is very little attempt made to make Elizabeth anything less
than the most dislikeable character of the year, and Diaz certainly
deserves credit for making her ill-tempered and hotheaded teacher
The other performers are
decent as well, especially Segal, who can coast by considerably on his
laid back charm and sweet disposition.
I also liked John Michael Higgins as a ragin' dolphin-aholic
(seriously!) and school
principal. Timberlake in
particular makes his role’s overt sincerity a riot all the way through
the film. He’s funny
because he is able to harness Delecorte’s dweebiness to hysterical
effect, but also because – like good on-screen comedians – he’s not
afraid to make a total ass of himself to get a laugh.
Just consider a moment with him in what has to be the first fully
clothed sex scene in movie history. Dry
humping has rarely been taken to such amusingly obsessive – and creepy
levels – as it is here.
There are some other spirited
sight gags too, like a recurring shot of an unidentified young male
student with one of those blank, open mouthed, and incredulous zombified
stares that relays how little interest he has in his teacher’s comments.
Yet, too many of the film’s other would-be hysterical moments
lack hearty laughs and oftentimes come off desperately (like a scene where
Elizabeth comes out with short shorts, a cut off top, and a willingness to
get wet and sultry at a school car wash: one student gets an erection
while watching her…hardy har). Even
other characters, like Punch’s Miss Squirrel, are so uncompromisingly
one note and caricaturized that you laugh less and less with them because,
frankly, you just get weirded out by them.
BAD TEACHER also thinks it's
much more cutting edge with its underlining material than it really is:
basically, we have an alcoholic, drug addicted, racist, oversexed, and
potty mouthed woman that is in charged of a junior high classroom of
pre-teens…and that’s it. Yes, a horrible, nasty, and sleazy adult that should in no
way be even around children has to supervise over their scholastic
needs. Lazily portraying a
misanthropic character engaging in wall-to-wall, morally bankrupted misbehavior
is not enough to win smart audiences over.
The script seems to sputter in terms of finding ways to make Diaz an
agreeably disagreeable anti-hero. Then
there is the film’s stunning lack of logic: There is rarely – if ever
– a moment in the film when you believe that a woman like Elizabeth would
ever last more than a day on the job as a teacher.
It is a requirement of this film’s somewhat imbecilic script that all of her
depraved misdeeds are all but ignored and unseen by the powers that be.
One last thing: BAD TEACHER is
almost shameful for how, in the end, it dreadfully tries to have Elizabeth
perform an emotional and professional about-face, thereby allowing
audiences to warm over to her right before the end credits.
That seems completely disingenuous to the rest of the film, not to
mention that it makes the script look all the more dutifully contrived. There is a searing black comedy of ill manners lurking deep
TEACHER, but alas all we get on the surface is dirty minded posturing.