BAD TEACHER (2011)
Running Time: 92 mins. Rating: 3 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Phyllis Smith, John Michael Higgins, Thomas Lennon
While watching this film I couldn’t help but think back to Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to change the layoff policy for teachers from the traditional LIFO (“last-in, first-out) to one based on merit. Of course, what would be a fair arbiter of merit rarely got any discussion. What Bloomberg was clearly implying was that kids would be better off with young, eager educators as opposed to many older, higher paid teachers, who were not as good as these recent dynamic college grads.
Mayor Mike will certainly not like BAD TEACHER because in this film it is the older faculty who are dedicated professionals who want students to learn, while the protagonist, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a young, sexy, stylish, and a complete burnout. “I went into teaching for all of the right reasons: a shorter workday and summers off!” she tells a colleague.
The film begins with Elizabeth announcing that she is leaving suburban Chicago’s John Adams Middle School in order to marry a very wealthy man. The scene quickly shifts to her driving away in a red Porsche where she is soon confronted by her fiancée, and even worse, her perspective mother-in-law, who accuse her of being a thoughtless gold digger who can’t even remember that today is “the love of her life’s” birthday. “OK, I’ll sign the prenup!” she screams just before being officially dumped.
She manages to get her job back at the junior high but instead of teaching, she shows movies to her classes while drinking mini-bottles of Jim Beam. Recess is a time to sneak a few marijuana tokes from a bong in her car.
Her spirits don’t begin to pick up until she meets a handsome new substitute teacher who comes from a wealthy family, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Figuring that Scott can be her new sugar daddy if she plays her cards right, she starts devising ways to save for breast implant surgery since Scott’s ex was, shall we say, extremely curvy.
BAD TEACHER has more than its share of flaws. The script is choppy and too often quite predictable. Figuring that she can at least skim off the top, if not embezzle nearly all of the funds, Elizabeth runs a student car wash whose purpose is to raise funds for a class trip. She dresses akin to the Daisy Duke character from “The Dukes of Hazzard” fame in order to get middle aged men to fork over the green. Of course, a series of collisions ensues from distracted drivers.
Justin Timberlake, who was a revelation in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, is blander than tapioca pudding as Mr. Delacorte. To be fair to him, it did not seem as if neither the screenwriters nor the director knew what to do with his character. You can’t help but cringe hearing Timberlake croon an infantile original song called “Simpatico” whose forced bad rhymes sound like they were discard given to him by Adam Sandler.
Having pointed out the negatives, BAD TEACHER, surprisingly has a lot going for it. Jason Segel is terrific as the gym teacher who pursues Elizabeth by putting on absolutely no airs and calling her out on her obnoxious behavior. Lucy Punch is hysterical is a spunky, energetic teacher whose outward enthusiastic optimism may be covering up mental illness. Veteran second bananas John Michael Higgins and Thomas Lennon, who plays a kinky Illinois Department of Education high-ranking bureaucrat, are quite funny and make the most of their screen time.
I had never thought much about the talents of Cameron Diaz until now. Like Julia Roberts, I saw her as a pretty face with little else to offer. I still stand by my feelings towards Roberts, but I stand corrected on Diaz. She shows a fearless and wicked comedic side that I never knew existed.
While her character is foul-mouthed and egocentric for most of the film, she manages to convey some credible humanity as well. When an unpopular overweight seventh grade boy humiliates himself by publicly admitting his crush on a very attractive girl in his class, Elizabeth pulls him aside. “You’ll never get this girl. She is out of your league,” she tells him but adds that things will improve for him. “How about next year?” he earnestly asks. “Probably not. You may have to wait until college. Sensitive guys do better there,” she points out. Elizabeth then finds a way to make him look like a seventh grade stud to his peers. A lot of boys in junior high school could have used an advisor like Ms. Halsey.
If you like this recommendations: Bad Santa, The Night Shift, Bad News Bears