Saturday, June 25, 2011

Love: Bad Teacher

It would be easy to step up and blow apart Bad Teacher.  Really just too easy.  If I wanted to attack it all I'd have to do would be to start ragging on its loose plot, its underuse of some really fantastic supporting actors, and the way it never manages to be little more than a cheap presentation of a superficial character performing superficial gags, flitting from semi-predictable plot point to plot point with a flippant refusal to mine anything for even a tiny bit of depth.  If I really wanted to nail this film to the cross I could start (as some have) picking apart the film's protagonist as a nasty blow by Hollywood in which they once again make their strong female character a manipulative, selfish, rather skanky lady who feels the need to get attention by pulling on her daisy dukes and writhing all over a car or two.  Yeah, it would be pretty easy to tear this movie apart.  The thing is, though, I actually liked it.  Bad Teacher is one of those perfect no-brainer comedies.  It's an ugly, rude, grown-up treat that takes extraordinary pleasure in doing ugly, rude things.  Like a million movies before it, its primary bent is to make you laugh and not fret the small stuff.  At that, it succeeds.  Repeatedly.  Think of Bad Teacher as, well, Bad Santa with a lady.  Or, an 80's Bill Murray comedy starring Cameron Diaz.  You get the picture.
 Diaz assumes the funny-lady role she's used to playing, but at a pitch the films offered to her don't usually possess.  As middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey, she's got spark and bite, never ceasing to be anything but convincing in her perpetual bad hangover attitude.  Similarities of the aforementioned titles aside, I couldn't help but see Diaz as a great, don't-give-a-shit proxy for someone like Billy Bob Thornton.  She's got the swagger, the belief that she's invincible, and the quicksilver personality shift between charmer and asshole.  Say what you will about her character's so-called "manipulative wiles."  For what it's worth, I saw it as more of an "it's about time" moment in which our female heroine gets to play as tough and dirty as all those typecasted dudes. 

Our story closely follows the exploits of Elizabeth, a gold-digging middle school teacher whose early retirement plans are abruptly canceled when her impending millionaire marriage falls through. Forced to go back to the gratingly upbeat, team-oriented Midwestern school she spent the previous year skating-by at, she arrives pissed off and prepared to do the bare minimum.  She does just that for weeks, sleeping and swigging from mini bottles of booze as her anxious class watches Stand and Deliver.  If she participates, it's only to attract the attentions of the new sub, Scott (Justin Timberlake), a pretty little dork with an appealing pocketbook.  Of course, Scott's a hot property on campus, and soon Elizabeth is engaged in battle with her perky, overachieving (and aptly named) co-worker Amy Squirrel  (Lucy Punch).   She does her ranting and venting to her sponge of a 'friend' (Phyllis Smith) and staunchly refuses to entertain the affections of a gym teacher (Jason Segel) she'd be well matched with.  All these little elements?  Perfect excuses to exhibit a fantastic lack of compassion and a total disinterest in almost everything that would make her at all decent at being a teacher.  I'd be lying if I didn't own up to being a little bit delighted by Halsey's lack of heart. It was pretty fun to watch a classroom figure teach in Louboutins, smoke up in the parking lot, scrawl "are you fucking kidding me" on tests, drink to excess each night alone, and engage in a truly awkward moment of on-screen dry humping.

There may be tepid points in the film, but there aren't very many punchlines or facial cues that go sour.  Diaz does well here, but she's got magnificent back-up.  Timberlake steps back and allows himself to be the joke instead of the scene-stealer, and Segel gets a slew of great moments.  Boys aside, though, it's Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith who may be the film's unsung heroes.  Smith brings her Office brand of bumbling comedy to the table and accomplishes amazing things with a mumble.  Punch (who has previously been seen in Dinner for Schmucks and UK flicks like St. Trinian's) is brilliantly manic, giving you as much to sympathize with as absolutely loathe.  For so much lowbrow comedy, the cast is functioning at a pretty high level, playing off own another in the sort of effortless manner that makes it seem as though there's nothing to it, which many might say is actually the case.  Regardless, there's talent here, and a whole lot of raunchy, breezy fun.


  1. I see that many people actually like it. I think I will, too. It does look like a perfect no-brainer rom com, like you called it, and sometimes we need some laughs like that.

  2. Ah, I agree, I got some good laughs from it :D And the cast, so many actors that starred in little films, or shows, like Mr. Rosso (Dave Allen), from Freaks and Geeks, how insane!

  3. @Maria Sofia: I loved that they found a place for Mr. Rosso! That was one of the best little inside jokes in the movie...

  4. It does have some chuckles but there are just way too many punch lines that fall flat on their faces and not enough of Jason Segel’s effortless hilarity to balance out everything else that’s trying too hard. ‘Bad Teacher’ had the potential for greatness but ended up being pretty forgettable. Good Review! Check out mine when you can!


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