In the midst of summer vacation, Bad Teacher promised to deliver some belly laughs for teachers on vacation. Instead, all the good parts were given away in the trailer and what remained was an unfunny comedy seriously detached from the classroom.
Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digger who finds herself forced to keep working as a middle school English teacher after her fiancé realizes she’s marrying him for money and calls the wedding off. Determined to find another rich man to finance the posh lifestyle she desires, Elizabeth devotes all her energy to raising enough cash to buy breast implants. Meanwhile, as she tries to win the attention of substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), heir to a family fortune, the school’s gym teacher (Jason Segel) relentlessly asks her out on dates. The tipping point comes when Elizabeth learns about a $5,700 bonus for the teacher whose classes score highest on the state standardized test. Overnight, she changes from showing movies everyday to drilling her students on challenging books. It seems that she may actually be capable of teaching something. But Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), the all-star teacher across the hall, has it out for her and Elizabeth may have to face the consequences for her reckless behavior.
Overall, Bad Teacher lacks in laughs and storytelling. There are plenty of opportunities for comedy, but they are never really developed into anything funny. For example, the handful of students who are featured over the course of Elizabeth’s story are largely stock-characters (the pretty girl, the overachiever, the nerd, etc.) and their unoriginality makes them disposable. Or, Elizabeth showing movies about school, ranging from Stand and Deliver to Scream (as she’s obviously run out of options) could have been used as a joke when she decides to actually start teaching, but instead the switch between films and lesson plans is abrupt and disjointed.
The performances in the film are okay. Cameron Diaz is pretty convincing as jaded, perpetually hung-over, shallow Elizabeth, but the character is so static I’m not sure if her work counts as acting. As pretentious, sensitive Scott, Justin Timberlake is at first humorous, but by the end of the movie his work is over the top and tired. Jason Segel is a lone bright spot in the movie as his character’s open, but subtle, mockery of Scott offers the only really funny moments in the film. Lucy Punch works well as the annoyingly perky and vindictive Miss Squirrel. It’s a shame that the writers made her character so irritating as she is the one good teacher who is actually shown in the classroom. And she ultimately is punished for how much she cares. At a time when education, teachers, and budgets are under so much scrutiny, I question the lack of sensitivity shown toward teachers who, unlike Elizabeth, actually care about their work.
When the credits rolled, I had to wonder why and how this film got made. The story is incredibly shallow, the lessons learned are half-hearted and only really serve to fulfill genre conventions, the characters are unlikable, and the off-color humor misses the mark. Somehow, if the writers had included more clichés for movies about teachers Bad Teacher probably would have been better off. As is, this film barely passes as a comedy and just doesn’t make the grade. I rate Bad Teacher 1/5 stars.
Bad Teacher was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenbert and directed by Jake Kasdan. It runs 92 minutes and is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
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