Review – Bad Teacher
– by Julia Brown
Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher is not really all that bad. Yet that’s one of the film’s main problems.
I had high hopes for this movie, thinking that Cameron Diaz was just the kind of Hollywood actress who could play as character as raunchy and totally offensive as Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken, criminal Santa in 2003’s Bad Santa. After all, this was the girl who made a name for herself by using semen as hair gel in Something About Mary. Plus, it’s not every day that you hear a film’s star utter the phrase “fuck my ass” in the movie’s trailer.
That’s not to say that Diaz lets her side down. She takes the character of Elizabeth Halsey and works it like the “I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get mine” gold-digger she should be. Diaz carries the movie pretty much on her own, though – not that she should have to, considering the talent pool in the film.
The script is a problem, which is a tad shocking, considering the writers hail from The Office. The film’s other comedic talents include John Michael Higgins, who plays Elizabeth’s dolphin-loving principal, and is an actor who obviously knows his comedy – watch him in Best in Show for proof. Justin Timberlake (who plays a possibly gay substitute who Elizabeth tries to woo on the off chance he has family money), Jason Segel (whose out-of-shape gym teacher character tries to woo Elizabeth throughout the flick) and Lucy Punch (who plays Elizabeth’s perky and quirky nemesis, Amy Squirrel) are similarly wasted: they just don’t get very funny lines to work with.
But the main issue is with Diaz’s character. She is crude, vain, drug-addled, materialistic, and only out for number one at all junctures. The plot is driven by her thesis that buying herself a set of bigger boobs will help her land a sugar daddy, allowing her to escape her horrid existence as a middle-school teacher. All of this could have been mined for comedy gold by the writers, if only they had had the courage to go further with it.
Good comedy is about pushing boundaries and surprising and even shocking the audience. In that sense, the film fails to deliver.
Using Bad Santa as a comparison again (and Bad Teacher‘s basic plotline certainly invites comparison), Billy Bob Thornton’s character in that film is genuinely disgusting on multiple levels. Watching his character lurch through that film, you don’t know whether to cry, laugh or throw up. Diaz’s character just doesn’t have that kind of effect.
Yes, she drinks and smokes pot (gasp). She wears inappropriate attire for a teacher (in any other context, her wardrobe would be killer). She obsesses about her boob size. She prefers to date rich guys over fat gym teachers. She does some pretty shady stuff. But she certainly doesn’t engage in grand larceny or anything. She has a potty mouth and she’s often, but not always, mean to the kids. And while all of that means she’s not a very nice person, it’s still pretty paltry in terms of what is considered bad behaviour in a fictional context these days.
Some critics have slammed Bad Teacher for being sexist. Elizabeth Halsey doesn’t have many redeeming qualities, but somehow she’s still not as bad as she needs to be in order to be truly funny, and I think it’s mainly due to the fact that she is a female character – the writers can’t go hog wild with her the way they could with a male character. Still, the fact that she is allowed to be bad at all, yet still win the day in the end, is a weird sort of cinematic progress. So perhaps the film is not as sexist as it seems at first blush.
Overall, as long as you keep your expectation in-check – and to do anything less than that regarding a big-budget summer Hollywood movie is folly – and are not above giggling at some cheap laughs, then you will enjoy this movie. Otherwise, you are better off renting/downloading Bad Santa.