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Movie Review: ‘Bad Teacher’

June 24, 2011

Elizabeth is a foul-mouthed bimbo whose biggest aspiration in life is to snag some rich sap who will take care of her for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, her latest victim sees through her antics at the 11th hour, and calls off their engagement.  Elizabeth  trades her Porsche in for a clunker, tucks her tail between her legs, and returns to her job as a school teacher.  She makes no effort to hide the fact she despises her job.  She comes to work hungover and high, frequently sporting raccoon eyes from the makeup she couldn’t bother to remove from the night before. Her wardrobe would make a pole-dancer proud, and no doubt would psychologically damage a handful of the boys in her classroom for years to come.She brandishes her sexuality like a weapon, and she’s got the legs and ass to do so. She’s a real bitch on wheels.

Elizabeth is sure that if she just gets a breast enlargement, she will  get the guy of her dreams, so she starts collecting money by any dubious means necessary. She also makes a play for the new teacher (Justin Timberlake) who happens to be heir to a family fortune.

She’s not just a bad teacher, she is a despicable human being; a narcissist and a sociopath.  The film goes for broke making her character as unlikable as possible. You can’t accuse director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) of not taking a risk here, and there is something inherently funny about completely subverting a noble profession. The trouble is, we’ve already seen this movie before, when Billy Bob Thornton starred in  Bad Santa, and that happened to be a better film. This is simply the female-centric version of the exact same concept. Santa (rather, a man who plays him) and a teacher are both highly unlikely candidates to be such vile, potty-mouthed misanthropes. It’s shocking, and makes both of the films very dark comedies, but I felt like Bad Santa had just a hint of heart.

Bad Teacher has none of that. The film is so busy being shocking that the story development suffers. You never want to root for Elizabeth.  A feeble attempt to redeem her character (in predictable manner) late in the movie doesn’t ring true.  Oddly, the humor is inconsistent as well. You keep waiting for the film to really take off and leave you in stitches, but it just doesn’t. There are definitely some funny moments, but there should have been more. The writing team of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg previously collaborated on the dreadful Year One, so there you go.

The film is at its best when it skewers the entire culture behind teaching, similar to what Cedar Rapids did with insurance salesmen earlier this year.  The interactions with the teachers and principal of the school are just familiar enough to elicit a chuckle. We all remember the perky and obnoxious super teacher, the complacent but cool gym teacher and the frequently exasperated school principal.

Cameron Diaz is quite funny in the role, and her body is insane. Those legs-holy shit.  I could have done without the harsh makeup, though. It ages her and is distracting at times. I did enjoy seeing her dig into the role with such zest.  Justin Timberlake was the big disappointment here. Granted, he doesn’t have much to work with, and his character is supposed to be a nerd, but aside from one raunchy scene in a hotel room, he’s pretty underwhelming.

Fortunately a charming supporting cast partially makes up for it. Jason Segel is just right as the gym teacher who keeps pursuing Elizabeth, in spite of herself.  Lucy Punch is a riot as Elizabeth’s obnoxiously perfect nemesis, and Phyllis Smith and John Michael Higgins are ever reliable as a fellow teacher and the principal.  Still, this will go down as one of the more forgettable R-rated romps released this year.

Rating 2.5/5



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