‘Bad Teacher’ gets A for effort, but not much else
Following the emerging genre of female-driven comedies, “Bad Teacher,” starring the bitingly sarcastic Cameron Diaz sporting some dangerously high heels and devious schemes to get rich, revels in some decidedly unladylike and unteacherlike behavior, including swearing at children, getting drunk and high on schoolgrounds and launching rubber balls at students. And by combining her seemingly innocent looks with a whole lot of mean, Diaz shines as an unabashed gold digger who would sooner drug and take advantage of you than lend a helping hand.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Written by Gene Stupnisky and Lee Eisenberg, and directed by Jake Kasdan, “Bad Teacher” pares down the high-concept low comedy to its essence: gorgeous woman, lacking a conscience, wreaks havoc on everything around her. The best part is that, when you first see her in a flattering yellow dress, you have no idea just how poisonous this pretty flower can be.
After barrelling out of the last day of school in her shiny sports car, cigarette in mouth, Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz, “There’s Something About Mary”) has grandeur in her eyes as she races to her moneybag of a financé, never to do anything so menial as teaching again. However, before she can lock him in, he’s gone, leaving her broke and forcing her back into a profession for which she is criminally unsuited.
After living the less-than-affluent lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed, Elizabeth sets a goal for herself: to find a man who will take care of her. In pursuit of this most noble aspiration, she decides on getting breast implants to woo the new substitute teacher, Scott (Justin Timberlake), a bore with family money, and all together ignores the more suitable love interest, Russell (Jason Segel, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”).
Of course, that doesn’t stop her from drinking from her airline-size liquor bottles while constantly showing her students movies of other people teaching. How else is she going to recover from her hangover? But then comes news of a bonus awarded to the teacher whose students earn the highest scores on the state’s standardized test. Her sudden interest in teaching only belies the fact that she’s interested in the bonus check, not whether her students learn one iota of information from her.
But she has to battle the school’s leading teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), to obtain that prize, and she does so with gusto.
The story fills itself out from there, though there’s more for your pleasure, including a principal with a dolphin fetish (John Michael Higgins, “Yes Man”) and a school official (Thomas Lennon, “Night at the Museum”) who Elizabeth completely rails to get what she wants. And let’s not forget Timberlake, who did an admirable job as the nerd, deftly flipping his sexyback reputation. The affable Segel does what he often does, which is win you over with nice-guy appeal and a lazy smile.
While the men of “Bad Teacher” did an entertaining job, it’s the women who will hold your interest. Punch will leave you both cringing and laughing with her insane perkiness and disturbing facial tics. While she’s not exactly a star, with a few more performances such as this, she could easily become a go-to actress. Then there’s Phyliss Smith (“The Office”) as Lynn, Elizabeth’s sweetly befuddled cohort, who gets caught in Elizabeth’s vortex of chaos. Both women provide Diaz terrific support, and it’s her relations with these women (along with her scheming and heartless ways) that makes “Bad Teacher” into more than just a summer comedy.
The only real flaw with the movie, though it’s a major one, is that it’s not as funny or dirty as it could have been. While there were ample jokes and inappropriately funny moments, they often played separate from one another, as if the movie were more a string of jokes rather than a continuous story. No matter the level of talent you have acting in the movie, they can only do so much with a less-than-quality script and direction.
And while it’s far more realistic not to have your main characters go through some miraculous transformation, most audience members will be disappointed to see Elizabeth never really change her ways. But there’s something to be said about someone who stands by her principles (or lack thereof).
So, despite all the debauched fun (and there’s plenty of it), the name of this lesson plan is mediocrity. As the movie’s tagline states, “She doesn’t give an ‘F.’” And honestly, there’s no better way of putting it.
Three classless stars out of five.