Review of Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel.
I had high hopes for Bad Teacher. I have always had a thing for dark comedies. It didn’t hurt that director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) was helming this project. I imagined something like “Bad Santa”, but with a female lead. As you recall “Bad Santa” starred Billy Bob Thorton in possibly his best role. He was an irredeemable alcoholic thief who poses as Santa to rob various malls. That movie took no prisoners and was not afraid to wallow in the muck. Bad Teacher falls short of these lofty goals, but does provide some laughs.
Cameron Diaz stars in basically the Thorton role as Elizabeth Halsey, a teacher at John Adams Middle School. To say that Elizabeth is a nasty piece work would be an understatement. She couldn’t care less about her students, doesn’t bond with any of the other teachers and coasts basically through the whole year doing very little. She never planned on coming back to teaching the next year because she was set on marrying a rich guy. She even had the tacky vanity license plate of “Hers” on her expensive foreign car to show how shallow she is. But a funny thing happened on the way to the altar; Elizabeth gets dumped by her finance. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with a 16 grand credit card bill that she rung up.
So Elizabeth has to squirm back to JAMS (clever nickname play on the name of the school). She has less than $100 in her bank account, shares a dingy apartment with a guy she has little in common with and she hates her job. Her way of teaching is by popping in various movies about teachers like Stand and Deliver and Lean On Me, while nursing a hangover. Her rival at the school is Amy Squirrel (the plucky Lucy Punch). Amy is best described as someone you don’t want to be around for any amount of time. She is hopelessly cheerful in an annoying kind of way. And yes they do have some fun with her last name. Amy is at the opposite end of the educator spectrum as Elizabeth. She is possibly too into the job and wants everyone around her to have the same zeal as her. This of course creates conflict between the two women.
Further complicating matters is new teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Both women take a shine to him for vastly different reasons. Amy likes his earnestness and eagerness to help the students, while Elizabeth is fond of Scott’s family fortune. Adding to the backdrop is Elizabeth’s quest to get bigger boobs. Elizabeth thinks this will help her move up in the world. After seeing Scott’s former girlfriend’s ample chest, she is more determined than ever to make enough money to make this happen. This creates multiple comedic moments for Diaz and she does reasonably well with them. The movie needed more outrageous absurdity to really take off, but it always seems to be pulling back the punches.
The screenplay was written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. Much of their work was done on the American version of “The Office”. They also did the widely panned Year One, which I kinda liked. They obviously know how to make the mundane funny. Unlike Bad Santa, they didn’t seem interested to go all out in making their lead character loathsome. It is hard to explain, but I thought Elizabeth could have been even meaner and despicable than she was. There was a brilliant scene involving Scott and Elizabeth on a school getaway. I won’t give anything away. I will just say that it was extremely raunchy and worked on several levels since Diaz and Timberlake used to go out together. There is also a nice car wash sequence set to a classic Whitesnake song that hit the mark. If you have seen commercials for the film, there is a good exchange about LeBron James and Michael Jordan. It was lucky for the producers of the film that James flamed out so spectacularly in the Finals that makes the scene even better. There are enough of these scenes to make the movie worthwhile to check out. I just wish there were more of them like that.
Bad Teacher has some strong supporting work by John Michael Higgins as the exasperated principal and Jason Segel as Russell Gettis, the gym teacher interested in Elizabeth. I saw one of the weaknesses of the film with the attraction that Russell has for Elizabeth. Other than the physical attributes, I find it hard to believe any guy would find her attractive. Her constant nastiness would seem to drive even the most superficial guy away. Russell comes across as a simple guy who likes his job and his life. It never feels true to me that he continues to pursue Elizabeth throughout the film. Like “Bad Santa”, Segel is a reminder of better films in this genre. He did the delightfully raunchy Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the sublime I Love You, Man. Both those films seem to be operating on the same comic premise of “Bad Teacher”, but they have no fear in presenting risqué material.
The battles between Amy and Elizabeth form the backbone of Bad Teacher. The back and forth is nice, but awfully predictable at times. That is another debit against the film. When I watched “Bad Santa”, I had no clue where it was headed and was thrilled to see what happened next. In Bad Teacher you pretty much know what is going to happen and how certain characters will evolve. I will say that the journey is fun though.
I do must give major kudos to Kasdan for his soundtrack choices. He sprinkles in some Whitesnake, Judas Priest and Dio into the mix. Other than the Whitesnake song, there really is no rhyme or reason for the selections. Is it to make Elizabeth a bad ass? I wasn’t complaining, but those were some interesting choices. Maybe Bad Teacher just needed more of the type of zaniness that Kasdan brought to Zero Effect and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It wouldn’t have hurt. Overall Bad Teacher is a good comedy, but it should have strove to be a great comedy.
More on Bad Teacher:
CAST and CREW FOR Bad Teacher
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Matthew J. Evans
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Written By: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky
Produced By: Jimmy Miller
Some teachers just don't give an F. For example, there's Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz). She's foul-mouthed, ruthless, and inappropriate. She drinks, she gets high, and she can't wait to marry her meal ticket and get out of her bogus day job. When she's dumped by her fiancé, she sets her plan in motion to win over a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake) – competing for his affections with an overly energetic colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch). When Elizabeth also finds herself fighting off the advances of a sarcastic, irreverent gym teacher (Jason Segel), the consequences of her wild and outrageous schemes give her students, her coworkers, and even herself an education like no other.