Review: Bad Teacher
PLOT: Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a bad teacher. After only teaching for a year, Elizabeth thinks she’s on easy street when she bags a rich fiancée. Once she gets dumped, she’s forced to return to the job she hates, but things start to look up when Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), a rich, handsome substitute, begins teaching at the school. However, Elizabeth has competition for Scott affections from the manic Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) a relentlessly chipper science teacher, with an axe to grind against slacker Elizabeth.
REVIEW: Black comedy is tough to pull off. For every HEATHERS or BAD SANTA, there’s a million DEATH TO SMOOCHYs. There seems to be a fine line between what’s acceptable, and what’s not, and in that regard, BAD TEACHER plays it safe. While it’s certainly a change of pace seeing Cameron Diaz in a raunchy R-rated comedy, BAD TEACHER is not a particularly dark ride. Her character, Elizabeth is not so much BAD in the BAD SANTA or BAD LIEUTENANT way, and they might have been better off calling this BITCHY TEACHER as that’s all she really is.
Her character’s not particularly cruel or devious. She’s just a slacker who shirks hard-work and responsibility, opting to go through life coasting on her good looks. Admirable? Hardly. Funny? Yeah, for the most part.
I’m a big fan of director Jake Kasdan, with him having directed several underrated gems including THE TV SET and WALK HARD, in addition to directing several classic episodes of FREAKS & GEEKS (from which, in addition to co-star Jason Segel, there are a few fun cameos). For the first forty minutes of so, BAD TEACHER is great. Diaz seems to be having the time of her life dropping F-bombs, making fun of overly enthusiastic students, and sneaking into the high-school gymnasium to get high with cynical gym teacher Jason Segel.
Diaz gets a lot of flak for having appeared in a slew of not-so-great films over the last few years, but as shown by her turn in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, and now this, she’s a natural at comedy. While still sexy, Diaz has always had a certain down-to-earth appeal that makes her seem somewhat more attainable than some of the colder on-screen beauties, and it’s this appeal that makes her believable, and funny in BAD TEACHER.
It helps that she’s got a dynamite supporting cast, led by Jason Segel, who’s doing a great job establishing himself as a leading man in the Bill Murray model. While the nice-guy gym teacher with a crush on the leading lady part might have been two-dimensional is other films, Segel’s so charismatic that he’s believable as a potential partner for Diaz.
As for Justin Timberlake, you gotta hand it to the guy- he knows how to be funny. That should be clear to anyone who’s seen him own on SNL over the last few years. His Scott Delacorte is a pretty amusing character, although, to be sure, it’s a one-note part, with his faux-dweeby shtick getting a little tiresome as the film wears on. The same goes for Lucy Punch as Diaz’ near-psychotic nemesis, who’s initially hilarious, but way overboard towards the end. Both characters are caricatures, but then again, not every film can be BRIDESMAIDS with its sharply defined, three-dimensional parts.
The problems in BAD TEACHER strike about forty minutes in, when the premise starts to run out of steam, with it seeming like they filmmakers didn’t exactly know where to go after hitting the halfway point. A side-plot about Diaz stealing a standardized test from Thomas Lennon’s nerdy school board examiner feels a little desperate, and sets the film on a more caper-ish course that’s a little disappointing.
However, warts and all, BAD TEACHER is still a pretty funny film, and one I had a good time with. Diaz and Segel are great, as are MODERN FAMILY’s Eric Stonestreet as Diaz’s goofy roommate, and THE OFFICE’s Phyllis Smith as a good natured teacher that befriends Diaz. While it’s inconsistent, the first forty minutes are enough to make it better than most comedies I’ve seen lately, and worth checking out.
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