Jake Kasdan's Bad Teacher
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Bad Teacher (2011)
“Bad Teacher” is one of those movies that causes me to rethink my priorities when reviewing a film. Normally, and if you’ve been reading my reviews long enough you’ll already know, my number one criteria when reviewing a film is the plot/storyline. However, if it should faulter in that area, then there’s the possibility of making up for it in other areas, which is what caused me to be reminded throughout this film of the recent “Easy A.” Both films are rather skimpy on plot, but make up for it by being rather funny throughout, and for a film like this, what more could you ask for?
It begins with Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) ending her brief teaching career and coming home to her husband who is waiting at home with his mother. It turns out that his mother wants them to divorce and the husband is in agreement, so with no other way to support herself, Elizabeth returns to her teaching post at the start of the next school year. Not exactly enthused about this prospect, she openly disrespects the faculty and instead of teaching her students, she merely shows them movies.
Her main mission now is to find a man who will take care of her, and in order to do this, she believes she needs to get breast implants. However, the cost is around $10,000, so she figures she must raise the money using any means necessary whether it be embezzling money from the school’s carwash or getting payments from parents for extra tutoring. One of the other teachers, Lynn Davis (Phyllis Smith), eventually tells her that the teacher whose class scores the highest on the state test receives a large bonus which gives Elizabeth the motivation she needs to start doing her job. However, her competition is rather steep as another teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), is quite good at her job and has won the bonus the last few years.
While the plot is rather thin, it’s the humor that keeps the movie afloat. I can’t recall there being much of a dry spell throughout either, rather there was a nice, consistent amount of laughs that kept the movie chugging along. “Bad Teacher” is also another example of why certain comedies work while others don’t. Take something like the recent “The Hangover II” for example. That film tried to use raunchy humor all the way through, but there just wasn’t any humor there to be had. “Bad Teacher” uses a small amount of raunchiness mixed with good quips and amusing situations for its humor, which makes for a much funnier film.
As a film critic, I was beginning to admire her teaching method of showing films like “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” and “Scream”… well, maybe not that last one so much, despite it being a great film, but perhaps her knowledge of motivational films having to do with schools was a bit limited. I’m only joking of course, but this is merely to illustrate one of the amusing situations that develops. Elizabeth does eventually get around to teaching Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” (surprisingly without showing the excellent film, at least not that we see), which leads to more comedic situations as her teaching method is revealed.
Cameron Diaz does a decent job as the misanthropic teacher, though her performance does become one note after awhile. Once she announces her goal of getting breast implants and a man, her mind never really turns to anything else. She spends much of the movie getting money from here and there while trying to get a substitute, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), interested in her. Timberlake likewise does a decent job as the nerdish substitute, but also never really changes his performance very much.
Elizabeth’s endeavor leads up to one of the most random endings I’ve seen in a film in a while. I’m not going to ruin it here, but just be warned that it won’t make a lot of sense because it’s not something that’s developed in the film at all, so when it happens, it’s just out of the blue. This is a bit of a shock, but you know what’s even more surprising? The writers of this film, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, co-writers of “Year One” and several episodes of “The Office,” actually wrote something funny for once.
Bringing this review back full circle, I was also reminded of how the trailer for “Easy A” had made it look like a dull, unfunny experience, as did the trailer for this film. This is exactly why I don’t trust trailers for comedies anymore, as they tend not to be a good indicator of what you’re actually going to get with the entire film. In the end, despite how thinly-plotted the film is, there are several laughs to be had, and that goes a long way. 3/4 stars.
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