On DVD: Bad Teacher

She might have been a rom-com darling for most of her career, but there’s no mistaking now that Cameron Diaz is a natural bad girl. Sure, part of it might have to do with survival of the fittest; raunchy R-rated comedies are the new cool kid in class and those who can’t play that game will find themselves jobless. But Diaz might have even upped her stock with her performance in “Bad Teacher,” a movie that’s unapologetically crude if not to the fault of absurdity. Nevertheless, foul-mouthed middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey makes for an amusing character study (no worries, you can skate by on the cliff notes).

Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky have essentially taken the laundry list of what qualities constitute a good teacher and ensured that Elizabeth embodies or does the opposite. To top it off (no pun intended), her motivation throughout the entire film is to raise enough money to afford breast implants, or as her character would be more apt to say, “a new pair of tits,” so that she might be able to woo the attractive and wealthy new substitute (Justin Timberlake).

Entire films have been built from shallower foundations, but for those bothered by issues of plausibility, “Bad Teacher” will be offensive in more ways than the many it already intended. How someone of Elizabeth’s nature ever got a teaching position in the first place will be the one question that crosses the mind of every viewer at some point during the film. Once you get past that whole in logic, it becomes easier to appreciate the way “Bad Teacher” allows us a chance to imagine what the world’s worst teacher would be like.

Elizabeth is about to finish her first (and only) year at John Adams Middle School somewhere in Illinois and wed the “man of her dreams” only he and his mother are on to the fact that she only wants him for the money. Her plan having failed, she returns to “JAMS” as a means of keeping herself (and her poor lifestyle) afloat. Her return reignites the gym teacher’s (Jason Segel) advances and a rivalry with her polar opposite, the spunky learning-lover Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Other than Diaz, Punch is the only one who seems aware of how absurd the film is and consequently she pushes it further with her delightfully quirky performance.

The depths to which both Elizabeth and Amy will stoop to get what they want or ruin the other have no limit. Their schemes are cleverly concocted, though they’re along the lines of your typical high jinks. Putting aside that their entire story relies on an unusually large suspension of disbelief, Eisenberg and Stupnitsky show a knack for writing easily digested crowd-pleasers. The array of other supporting characters could be described as either run-of-the-mill or perfectly adequate. Timberlake makes few waves as a socially oblivious dork who as it turns out has a passion for dry-humping and John Michael Higgins delivers exactly what’s expected of him: acting like John Michael Higgins. Phyllis Smith brings her “The Office” character over to this film with a measure of success, but only those unfamiliar with her will be impressed.

The small ounce of a “good message” comes with a slight lowering of Elizabeth’s superficial expectations after her grand plan unfurls. The natural thought here would be to completely ignore any sort of moral responsibility to end on a warm and fuzzy note considering all previous material dismisses it anyway. Yet some sort of Hollywood obligation must have nagged for awhile. Forget Elizabeth, the fact that Segel’s character Russell would want anything to do with her beginning, middle or end of the film says a lot (though quite little) about his character.

The R-rated comedy trend continues to thrive with “Bad Teacher,” though for better or worse it’s hard to say. Calling it a guilty pleasure comedy might be the most apt description, as even those who really enjoy it will admit just where it falls on the preposterous spectrum. Considering many previous Cameron Diaz vehicles have fallen into the guilty pleasure category too, maybe the actress has been in her comfort zone all along.


3/5 Stars


Bad Teacher
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake


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