Bad Teacher could very well have been a decent movie, albeit shallow and narcissistic, had the filmmakers been more concerned with story and character development than just the shock value of hearing a female say the word “fuck.” Even though recent films like Bridesmaids have legitimized female actors as being able to do comedy as well as any male actor, Bad Teacher assumes that watching a woman be raunchy and offensive is enough to make a movie.
The movie is a very blatant rip-off (in both tone and title) of the hilarious 2003 R-rated holiday comedy Bad Santa which starred Billy Bob Thornton as the worst mall Santa Claus that has ever existed. That movie worked spectacularly because 1) we understood why the character was such a miserable human being, and 2) the entire film employed the same style of comedy. Bad Teacher stumbles through with superficial characters and at multiple brands of humor, none of which work completely.
So here’s the very poor attempt at a plot: After being dumped by her extremely wealthy sugar daddy, natural born gold-digger Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is forced to return to her job as a middle school teacher (of English, maybe?) and begin attempting to support herself. We get the impression that this is the first time she has ever been required to do this. Not only does Elizabeth have no idea how to teach a class, she has absolutely no desire to do so which becomes a problem when the World’s Most Dedicated Teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), begins to suspect that Elizabeth is abusing her position.
Elizabeth has a plan, though: breast implants. If she can raise enough money to get new boobs, she’s sure to land a rich guy, possibly even the new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who is heir to a wealthy watch designer dynasty. She decides that he is the man who can take care of her and focuses all of her efforts on raising the money she
While watching the film, directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), a barrage of questions entered my mind. Elizabeth clearly has no knowledge of how to be a teacher and doesn’t even appear to have attended college, so how was she hired by a school district which required a degree, certification and state licensing to teach in a classroom? Why is the substitute teacher in the school for an entire year? Don’t they usually just pop in for a few days at a time and then move elsewhere in the district? Elizabeth appears to be constantly destitute, but her school appears to be well-funded, with up-to-date classrooms and resources so wouldn’t she earn a decent salary? Don’t school administrators periodically sit in on
teachers’ lessons to observe how they are doing at engaging students? Wouldn’t Elizabeth, who just puts on a movie every day, be caught red-handed when she was without any sort of lesson plan?
The movie just coasts by on crude humor and the freedom that an R rating allows. Diaz is entertaining as Elizabeth for about the first 30 minutes, but then she quickly becomes unlikable and subsequently loathsome as the movie progresses. Her methods of manipulation and her solipsistic attitude become so disgusting that one can only hope she is caught in the act and reduced to a fate as bad as being the school lunch lady. If the audience can’t, in some way, identify or empathize with the protagonist, then all hope is lost.
The most disappointing part of the movie is the very talented Jason Segal who is relegated to the role of the gym teacher who is smitten with Diaz’s character. Why he, as an intelligent and normal person, would be attracted to a miserable person like Elizabeth is a mystery that the movie does not address. We can only assume that Segal re-wrote the part himself as he has the only organically comedic moments and resemblance of an actual character. Segal is not only the best part of the movie, but also the funniest.
Where Bad Teacher fails and Bad Santa succeeds is that, while Billy Bob Thornton’s character was a horrible individual, we get a sense that he hates himself as much as the viewer does. That is a trait that an audience can accept and identify with. Diaz’s character is unapologetic and oblivious to her evilness and therefore gives us no reason to watch her or care about her.
This film is rated PG-13 and runs 92 minutes.