Bad Teacher, what we think
It is often wondered why people focus so much of their time on celebrities. They are supposed to be every day people with just much bigger paychecks and yet, actors can be prone to the same flaws and failings as every day people are. For instance, they can be like children who think they are big enough or capable enough of doing something on their own, like how Cameron Diaz thought she could carry her new comedy film Bad Teacher all on her own. The appropriately titled film follows Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a fowl mouthed; greedy, lazy high school teacher who finds out that she’s no longer able to leech off her rich fiancé’s lifestyle when he gives her a well deserved boot. Halsey regretfully returns to high school teacher work (though couldn’t care less about her students) and falls into a slump until she meets new teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). He’s rich, he’s cute, and all Elizabeth thinks she needs to get back her rich lifestyle (by marrying him) is to earn enough money for breast implants through the school. That’s pretty much the whole movie’s plot in a rotten nutshell.
Raunchy comedies are sometimes a hit and miss. A lot of people think that if you put a bunch of swears and perverse language/situations that any movie can be hysterical, truthfully, I often find truth in that case. Though in this film’s case it goes back to the whole hit and miss thing. You’d never know this movie was directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox story), because the whole film feels like it was directed and made at Cameron Diaz’s pleasure. She may be the lead actor in this film but in many ways, Bad Teacher feels more like a platform vehicle to hammer in the notion that Cameron Diaz is funny enough to do whatever she wants to do. Which is odd considering Diaz is no stranger to comedy, her work in There’s Something about Mary speaks for itself, and yet despite this movie’s well earned chuckles now and then, it feels like Diaz is trying so hard to make us laugh at every little thing she does and it just doesn’t work that way.
Diaz is playing a character who is rotten to the core, and the movie does not attempt to hide this, if you’re not a fan of watching rotten characters, this film isn’t for you. Now this isn’t exactly a horrible thing. Films often focus on less than admirable characters and it’s that kind of obnoxious persona that makes us see where things are going to go with this character. Diaz’s Halsey really doesn’t go anywhere though, that’s the thing, she just spirals down into a more rotten human being and just occasionally does stuff that makes us laugh. Admittedly, watching a teacher smoke pot in the school parking lot, and smashing kids faces in with dodge balls if they answer quiz questions wrong produce quite a few laughs. Even the sexed up car wash scene (which served no point other to remind us Diaz is still hot) made me laugh and smile. The problem is this movie thinks that if you put enough dirty, fowl mouthed humor into something; we will forget the fact this movie is making it seem “okay” to praise bad behavior and turning genuinely decent people into would-be villains.
Take Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), an almost cartoonish character whose “goody two shoes” teacher character is too absurd to believe someone like this really exists. Punch’s character serves as the rival for Halsey fighting for Timberlake’s character and trying to expose Halsey as a fraud. Punch actually does a pretty good job with her performance, but her character is pre-set to be despised and fail miserably that it actually annoyed me rather then made me laugh. The only actor who pulls off this transition well is Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), a gym teacher who is just as morally bankrupt as Halsey is and is in love with her, but since he’s equally financially bankrupt, she’s not interested in him. This character was the most interesting to me because he’s the only one who feels real, he says and does things that are unlikable and fit right in with Halsey’s sense of humor, yet we find ourselves liking the guy and actually hoping these pair of fowl mouthed, inconsiderate jerks end up with each other. However, I felt the real scene-stealers of this film were the supporting cast, which also falls into the film’s biggest problem: the leading cast.
Most of the funnier bits and scenes come from the minor players like Phyllis Smith (The Office) or John Michael Higgins. The funniest scene of the movie actually has NOTHING to do with Diaz or any of the leads, actor Thomas Lennon gets “intimidated” by the roommate Halsey met on Craigslist and THAT scene had me in tears. Even Justin Timberlake, who is billed as one of the main actors in this film, barely gets any screen time and it’s a shame because he’s quite good in this role and had SO much potential to make me laugh. But, every time someone is going to do something genuinely funny, it feels like Cameron Diaz comes over, grabs the camera, points it back at her and says “Hey, this is about me isn’t it?” Diaz may be the star of the film but she is not the only actor in this movie, and it always feels like the cast wants to do something but then restrains themselves so they don’t step over Diaz’s toes. It’s not the fault of the jokes or their content; it’s the device they are using to deliver them, the device referring to Cameron Diaz. Any joke can be ruined if the comedian is trying too hard to deliver the punch line, and Diaz is laying it on pretty thick.
In many ways, this film seems strikingly familiar to Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton (hey they even both have the word ‘bad’ in the title). Both films feature a low life, morally corrupt, potty mouthed loser who has given up on life, both feature people who have jobs that involve children, and both feature people who are desperate to make some quick cash. The main difference between them is being redeemable. The characters in Bad Santa were a thousand times dirtier, mean spirited, but were also more believable and presented a perfect combination of humor and dark storytelling that proves even the lowest of the low can be redeemed. Bad Teacher thinks making good people look bad and bad people look awesome equals awesome filmmaking, sorry to say that’s not the case. You can’t just make a movie funnier by throwing in toilet-scented language and having a jerk constantly outshine everyone else in the movie. Shattering your moral compass does not guarantee comedy gold; no matter how many times Diaz drops the F bomb to remind you “I’m still funny!” This movie has no balance in humor and no balance in actor screen time, this is the Cameron Diaz show and she has to remind you, even if she has to steal everyone else’s screen time to do it. So what have we learned, is Bad Teacher really all that bad? No but it’s not all that great either. The premise is ripe with comedy potential, Diaz does knock a few good ones out of the park, Jason Segel is impossible to hate, and Phyllis Smith still has that “Office” magic. But, Diaz is way too dominating for my tastes, the supporting cast deserved way more attention, and evil triumphing over good isn’t as funny as this movie thinks it is, nor is Cameron Diaz.
Bad Teacher gets a 3 out of 10.