"When I first started teaching, I thought I was doing it for all the right reasons: shorter hours, summers off, no accountability…"
Another school year is coming to a close at John Adams Middle School, and Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is about to marry her wealthy fiancé, which will allow her to leave the teaching profession forever. Her scheme is pretty transparent, though, and she gets dumped by the fiancé (and his mom), which forces her to go crawling back to her 7th grade classroom. With the assistance of heavy drinking and drug use, she has to find a way to dodge her duties, all while trying to scrounge up $10,000 to pay for a new boob job that’ll hopefully impress the new (and wealthy) substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake).
Before you read any further, you should probably know that I’ve actually spent time in the teaching trenches (yeah, the guy writing for Balls Academy); my first year was easily one of the worst years of my life, and I swore I’d never go back. So just seeing the trailer for Bad Teacher was pretty cathartic because the film absurdly captures a lot of the frustrations involved with the job. It really does take a special person to be a teacher. And, like myself, Elizabeth Halsey is not one of those people. She does, however, basically live out every teacher’s fantasy, even if they don’t want to admit it. Diaz is pitch-perfect in the role as a crass teacher who simply doesn’t care, and she lets her students know it: she mocks their poor work (as a former English teacher, I can especially identify with students who can’t form a cohesive sentence) and is brutally honest with them about their prospects in life. Her television and DVD player are her trusty teaching aids, as she considers movies to be “the new books”; one of her film choices would have no doubt delighted Chainsaw and Dave from Summer School.
She’s also the type of gal Van Halen had in mind when they wrote “Hot for Teacher,” and she doesn’t mind showing that off when she needs to as well. Dispensing with the notion that teachers are always prissy prudes, she’ll stop at nothing to get a “good dicking” from Timberlake’s character, who is kind of a goody two-shoes, ideal teacher type. An odd sexual encounter proves that he might be a little bit more weird than Elizabeth had expected. Vying for Timberlake’s affection is Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), another goody-goody type who is way too perky, overly-zealous, and nasally. She’s the type of teacher that even other teachers hate, and Elizabeth sees through her phoniness and develops a rivalry with her. The two have some good back-and-forth shenanigans, and the two actresses’ disparate personalities clash well. It’s especially satisfying to see the “good teacher” lose her cool when she’s constantly outdone by her slacker counterpart. Jason Segel is caught in the middle as a gym teacher who is perhaps slightly better at his job than Elizabeth; however, he also doesn’t join in with the teacher fraternity crap. He’s essentially the same lovable loser he’s played before, and here he’s a self-proclaimed “Terminator” who won’t stop hitting on Elizabeth.
Of course, there’s learning involved--but don’t worry, it isn’t some of that trite, sappy junk where the students make the teacher realize some inner truth about themselves. But Elizabeth does learn that maybe she isn’t as bad at her job as she thinks she is; in fact, she comes up with quite a clever way to improve the reputation of a boy that was just humiliated in front of his classmates. I’d hesitate to call this a touching story (because it isn’t), but there’s an entertaining character arc to be found beneath all of the boozing, pot-smoking, and sexual misadventures. This is one of those times where most of that outrageous stuff has been seen in the trailer, but it still works well enough because they did bury a decent story in there that never betrays the film’s tasteless premise.
Elizabeth truly lives up to the film’s title--she’s not a particularly good person and does some wildly illegal things in the name of breast enhancement. If people were shocked by some of the exploits of the ladies in Bridesmaids, they’ll probably be more dismayed at how Diaz continues to explode the notion that women are “the fairer sex.” Somehow, it all works; the humor might not consistently fire on all cylinders, but there’s a light wackiness to it all that allows us to laugh. Maybe it’s because Diaz is just so brazenly dismissive of such heavy responsibilities. That she’s so flippant with something we supposedly hold precious (education) doesn’t seem to matter because I think deep down, we all wish we could be so aggressively honest about our lot in life. As for myself, Bad Teacher practically ties the bow on my short teaching career; I found it to be a nice way to vent multiple years of frustration towards a system that’s broken (and one I was never meant to fix). I don’t know what I’ll do now, but I can’t help but think I’d have a better idea if there were more brutally honest teachers like Elizabeth Halsey when I was growing up. She’s a real class act, and I think we’ll always have an apple for her here at Balls Academy. (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: