If you’re the type of person who takes offence at the idea of a teacher grossly abusing the education system for personal gain or at people who curse up a storm in front of kids, then you’d better look elsewhere for a good time this weekend (perhaps at Cars 2 or Kung Fu Panda) because Bad Teacher is definitely not going to be up your alley. For those who do find the idea of a pot-smoking Cameron Diaz cursing out an 11-year-old girl for her crap sense of style funny, then this one’s for you. Think of it as a broader, tamer and less consistently funnier version of Bad Santa, Terry Swigoff’s black and morbidly twisted comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic, drug addicted con man who poses as a mall Santa.
Though I’ve never been a fan of Diaz (who I’ve always found dim-witted), she’s given me good reason to doubt my judgment after watching this film. As Elizabeth Hasley, a 30-something middle-school teacher who’s rude, crude, and unafraid to say it how it is, Diaz is funny, at times laugh out loud hilarious, clever (yes!), smarmy, and is flat out, a bitch and a half (that’s a compliment by the way)! Her Hasley cheats, steals money, blackmails, lies to her coworkers, smokes pot, pops pills, is possibly an alcoholic, and has one pungent mouth. She’s also a conniving degenerate sleazebag who’d do just about anything to get what she wants – in this case – a filthy rich husband and an expensive boob job. And when I say anything, I’m talking about strutting across the school halls in ridiculous revealing outfits (no complaints from me there), performing an erotic dance atop a car at children’s fundraising car washes (ditto), blackmailing school board members (hmm) and taking bribes from parents (uh, yea).
As the movie opens, Elizabeth is on her way out of John Adams Middle School (JAMS), a relatively decent middle-school in the suburbs of Chicago. The fact that this woman managed to secure a job as a teacher is one mystery the film never attempts to answer. On second thought, with Elizabeth’s glowing character traits, I shouldn’t be so mystified. Anyway, after a year of hell “teaching,” she resigns to marry her filthy rich fiancé and live a life of gold-digging bliss. Unfortunately, he’s on to her money-grubbing ways after she blows 16 grand in a month. Freshly dumped and with her plan in tatters, it’s back to the drawing board for her. Sadly that also means going back to work as a teacher at JAMS. Now stuck with an empty bank account and living in a shanty apartment with a weird roommate (Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet) whom she found on Craigslist, Elizabeth spends her days at school nursing hangovers while making her students watch stuff like Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver and Scream.
Just when all seems lost, in walks Scott Delacorte (Diaz’s real-life ex Justin Timberlake), a goofy and unbelievably shallow substitute teacher who’s the heir to a luxury watchmaker’s empire. After Elizabeth’s advances are rejected by a clueless Scott because he’s still getting over his surgically enhanced ex, she scrambles to score some dough to fund that boob job. But things aren’t going to be as simple because Elizabeth’s nemesis, the unnaturally squeaky Amy Squirrel (an astonishing Lucy Punch who threatens to steal the movie from Diaz) sees Elizabeth for who she really is. The game is really amped when Amy starts catching Scott’s eye and then blown out of proportion when Elizabeth figures a new scheme to get the money she needs.
As good as Diaz is, she wouldn’t be as effective if it weren’t for a gifted supporting cast. Punch, as I mentioned earlier, is a revelation. After her performances in this film and last summer’s similarly whacky Dinner for Schmucks, she’s slowly shaping up to be one of the brightest comedic talents in the industry. Also in the stealing scenes department is the always dependable Jason Segel who plays a smart-ass out of shape gym teacher Russell Gettis who has Elizabeth all figured out but loves her in spite (or because) of it. Segel gets some of the movie’s best lines and his timing is often perfect! Timberlake too is quite good as the shallow Scott. , After he proved his dramatic chops in Fincher’s The Social Network, he’s proving to be quite a gifted comedian as well with his work here, the upcoming Friends with Benefits and his Emmy-winning work on SNL.
What prevents Bad Teacher from transcending the raunchy comedy genre is its lightweight attitude and inconsistency. Seriously, the plot of the movie is essentially Elizabeth finding every possible way to get a boob job. That’s it! Also, after the film’s razor-sharp first hour, things start to fall flat in its last half hour. It’s as if director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard, Freaks and Geeks) screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (whose work includes multiple episodes of The Office) couldn’t come up with a way to conclude their story.
Bad Teacher may not be the funniest comedy you’ll see this year (that’ll be Bridesmaids) nor is it the worst either (that’ll be Your Highness) but with a very funny and against-type performance from Cameron Diaz, a dazzling supporting cast of character actors (Jason Segal, Lucy Punch), not to mention a smart, crude and witty script, you’ll be laughing your ass off. Despite its hiccups, I do recommend checking the film out sometime, be it at a matinee or on DVD if it doesn’t warrant your $10 bucks.