Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bad Teacher Review

 In Jake Kasdan’s new film “Bad Teacher” Cameron Diaz is one nasty teacher. She does drugs, drinks, shows up for class late, writes “stupid” on her students’ papers, hurls dodge balls at them for getting wrong answers, and flat-out insults them in class.

Diaz plays the role with sassy and sexy perfection. Her character, whose name is Elizabeth Halsey, hates her job but she still puts energy into everything she does, even while she struts down the halls wearing heals and a short black dress. Halsey is similar to the character Billy Bob Thornton played in the 2003 film “Bad Santa” in which he plays a shopping mall Santa who also hates his job.

 When the movie begins, Elizabeth is planning to marry a very rich man, and I guess she takes the teaching gig on the side, but you wonder why she chose teaching because she’s clearly not cut out for it. She’s ready to call it quits after one year to settle down with her loaded fiancé but that goes to hell so she’s back in the school, forced to ‘teach.’

Though this isn’t just the Cameron Diaz show, she is helped out tremendously by an excellent supporting cast made up of an array of different actors with different styles of humor. You’ve got Phyllis Smith as the old, reserved but not afraid to show some fire teacher, who’s pretty much playing her character from the TV series “The Office.” Then there is British TV star Lucy Punch, playing the over achieving and annoying yet feisty teacher Amy Squirrel who ends up becoming Halsey’s rival. Even Justin Timberlake pulls off playing the new charming but superficial substitute teacher, that Halsey falls for, and who inspires her to get a boob job.

So in order to raise the $10,000 for the operation, she does more bad stuff. She takes over the student carwash, and she steals the answer key to the Illinois standardized test, so she can earn a bonus that’s given to the teacher with highest test scores. But of course, Squirrel won’t let that happen.

Most of this stuff makes for a fairly entertaining raunchy comedy, and the fact that it takes place in a school makes it even funnier. The script by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky was at its best when it stuck with school related jokes (like when Halsey shows nothing but school movies during the first half of the year or when they go on a field trip to a children’s historical town where they’re lectured to by a lackluster Abe Lincoln impersonator).  Even the simple non-dirty jokes were fun, like when the gym teacher/other love interest Russell (Jason Segel) gets into an argument with a fellow student over which basketball player is better: Lebron James or Michael Jordan.

However, with all the cursing and children ridiculing, the major problem with “Bad Teacher” is that it doesn’t try to get at anything deeper. I know that it’s a comedy but comedies are still capable of having a heart. Even “Bad Santa”, for all its sex jokes and profanity, did have some heart: the Thornton character ends up befriending an awkward kid. “Bad Teacher” attempts to have those student-adult connections, Halsey does help an awkward kid, and she has a couple amusing moments with a preppy girl in her class, but Kasdan doesn’t go beyond those small moments and instead sells out for cheap drug and sex jokes. We know that Halsey is bad but what else is there to her? She doesn’t even get a comeuppance for all her bad deeds.

In the end the film is mainly just a vehicle for Cameron Diaz to show off her sexy, ferocious power and attitude. It has a clever script with a few good gags but there just wasn’t much else to make the movie worthwhile.

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