Bad Teacher

I’ve always believed the script to be much more elemental to a comedy’s success than the director. With that said, you’d think with scribes Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, this picture would be garbage. After all, this was the screenwriting team responsible for the execrable Year One. Fortunately this is not the case. Don’t get me wrong, Bad Teacher doesn’t aim high. The ideas are rather commonplace as it rests heavily on lazy clichés. The girls’ volleyball coach is a butch lesbian for example. It is moronic in places, but it’s also entertaining in an undemanding sort of way.  Most of the comedy is based on the premise that watching an educator behave in an unprincipled fashion can be side-splitting.

I wish the story had been a bit more sensible. Cameron Diaz is Elizabeth Halsey a hard drinking, pot smoking teacher who curses like a sailor. She’s driven by an all consuming desire to marry rich so she doesn’t have to work in life. You see, teaching is just the fallback crutch she relies on while waiting to secure a wealthy husband. Yes you read that correctly. Why an apathetic underachiever like this chose the teaching profession as “the easy way out” is never explained. It seems to be merely a writer’s construct to get laughs from Diaz’ politically incorrect behavior. Admittedly her conduct is a mischievous delight, a guilty pleasure if you will. For instance, her lesson plan depends on showing movies like Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds while she naps in class. You know, films about dedicated instructors affecting positive change on the lives of their students. That’s hilariously ironic and not so far off from some very real teachers in actual schools. If Bad Teacher had explored those targets as a commentary on the state of the educational system in the U.S., this could have been even more subversive. As it stands, the satire is extracted superficially from her less than heroic behavior as a teacher. It’s a fearless performance so she earns points for that at least. She isn’t likeable by any stretch of the imagination. But she definitely commits to the role. Unfortunately it’s a one-note portrayal, so the joy kind of runs out quickly.

Similarly not making much sense is her love interest played by Justin Timberlake. New substitute Scott Delacorte behaves in a manner than is wildly schizophrenic. His personality appears to fluctuate depending on the scene at hand. One minute he’s sweetly innocent, the next he’s awkwardly lustful. That makes him unpredictable, but it isn’t particularly engaging. For humor to be funny, there needs to be some truth involved. Much more realistic is Jason Segal’s cynical gym teacher. He’s subtle and the underplaying works well against everyone else’s exaggerated style.

The true secret weapon in Bad Teacher is a star making appearance by English actress, Lucy Punch who plays Amy Squirrel, a goody goody instructor who is Elizabeth’s chief rival at the school. She is so defiantly by-the-book, so cheerful, she won me over with her do-gooder spirit. She’s buoyantly friendly. I found her perkiness infectious. Initially Amy sincerely attempts to make friends with Elizabeth, repeatedly and with enthusiasm. However she isn’t taken in by Amy’s charms. She’s annoyed by her presence. But Elizabeth’s behavior seems irrational. We’re clearly encouraged to join her in hating Amy, but despite the writer’s obvious intentions, I caught myself rooting for her. Much in the same manner that the writers of TV’s Family Ties inadvertently created a character people loved with Alex P. Keaton. Apparently we’re supposed to hate traditional types, but Amy Squirrel is a teacher we want to champion.

Although saddled with an imperfect script, the movie manages to entertain on a cursory level. The humor is shall we say, accessible. Lucy Punch gets high marks for pushing this past mediocrity and Cameron Diaz adds to the proceedings with her no holds barred shenanigans. Bad Teacher doesn’t come close to achieving the honor roll, but it earns a B- at least for the occasionally amusing effort.

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One Response to “Bad Teacher”

  1. Great review, Mark! Will watch because I love the cast! Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel and Lucy Punch (who was the only good thing in Dinner for Schmucks and also good in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). It’s pretty obvious from the trailer this is not at all sophisticated, but at least it’s fun (and sometimes that’s enough).

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