Bad Teacher

The tag line for this movie is “she doesn’t give an F.” And, while that’s true, the movie is nonetheless getting one from me.

Genre(s): Comedy

Director: Jake Kasdan

Actors: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel

Year: 2011

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

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I’m not sure when or where Bad Teacher went wrong, or why it feels like it used to be a different movie that was somehow re-edited into this sloppy, unfunny mess, but it’s not good. Not good at all.

Cameron Diaz stars as Elizabeth Halsey, a middle-school “teacher” who hates teaching. She loathes her students as much as she does her fellow educators, shows up to class hungover (or drunk) and doesn’t do a speck of work but, when her sugar-daddy fiancé dumps her, she decides to teach for another year… because, apparently, in this fictional world teaching is a super- lucrative career.

Elizabeth very reluctantly and über-resentfully hauls her ass back to school. Goofy gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) has a crush on her, and Amy (Lucy Punch), the overly perky gal with the classroom across the hall, wants to be her BFF… until both she and Elizabeth begin competing for the affection of nebbish substitute Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). From there, like so many films before it, Bad Teacher kind of loses its mind and devolves into a lame women-behaving-stupidly disaster.

For no discernable reason except lazy screenwriting, Elizabeth pursues Scott despite the fact that he almost immediately, and very clearly, falls for Amy. The claws come out (what for?) and, soon, so does the crazy. For both women. All the while, Scott cluelessly bops along and Russell continues trying to win Elizabeth over… even though she’s essentially a hateful cliché who treats him like crap.

Though it wants to be “bad,” the movie never really pushes the envelope. There’s some blue dialogue, but that’s about it. Coming on the heels of the pull-out-all-the-stops Bridesmaids (which I didn’t enjoy, either), it just feels too… bland. Too safe. There are even enough tiny feel-good moments sprinkled throughout that it almost seems like the filmmakers couldn’t quite decide whether their lead character should be likable or despicable, so they just covered all the bases and hoped for the best. That indecision – or, perhaps, over-tweaking in post – shows onscreen, and Elizabeth feels like a halfway realized person. Not evil enough to be a delicious villain, and not good enough to be redeemable.

Though Diaz gets saddled with a half-assed character and all the men in the film – including John Michael Higgins as the school principal – are portrayed as complete morons, no one’s stick end is shorter than that of poor Lucy Punch. She’s stuck playing a shrill lunatic, who isn’t believable or relatable in the least. She’s meant to be the comic foil and, I think, the character for whom we root… but, man, I just wanted her to go away. (Weird aside: I kept thinking Amy should have been played by Molly Shannon… and then, what?!, Molly Shannon showed up in a cameo as a parent.)

Even though I walked into the theater with low expectations, Bad Teacher managed to fail to reach even those. And I’m really hoping the crass-and-crude-lady-comedy trend in movies is one that comes to a speedy end. Soon.

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