Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bad Teacher

Directed by Jake Kasdan.
2011. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Cameron Diaz
Lucy Punch
Jason Segel
Justin Timberlake
Phyllis Smith
John Michael Higgins
Eric Stonestreet
Matthew J. Evans
Molly Shannon

When we meet Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) she’s quitting her job as a teacher because she is about to marry the man of her financial dreams. He abruptly dumps her because he’s finally figured out, with the help of his mom, she’s only in it for the money. With that, she goes slinking back to the classroom. She also hangs out late every night trying to snare another rich guy. Not surprisingly, teaching isn’t something she actually does. Day after day she pops in a “school related” movie for her class (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, etc.) and then catches up on her sleep. She’s also under the impression that getting breast implants will help her get her man, whomever he may be. Her never ending quest to save up for a boob job and find that wealthy husband ensues.

The first criteria most of us use to judge a comedy is how often it makes us laugh. With that solely in mind, Bad Teacher is merely okay. It goes for big laughs by being constantly irreverent. It also gets a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing the squareness of Elizabeth’s co-workers with her too-cool-for-the-room aloofness. This is most obvious in our heroine’s feud with a fellow teacher, the overzealous Ms. Squirrel (Punch). The two despise one another and both vie for the attentions of the same man, substitute teacher Scott (Timberlake) who happens to have a very rich family. From time to time it gets the laughs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get them often enough. Too much of the time our bad teacher just comes across as pathetic, not funny. This makes Cameron Diaz’s performance in the lead role both an asset and liability. It’s an asset because she actually gives an outstanding performance. She plays it just enough over the top that she can still maintain believability. It’s some of her best work. However, it’s a liability because she is so believable she can’t help but engender some sadness towards her, detracting from the humor.

A comedy that doesn’t keep us constantly in stitches allows other things to eat away at it. In this case, we first notice the symptom before the actual problem. The symptom is that this film is totally void of character development. Every person here is a one dimensional caricature that never deviates from the way they are when we first meet them. There is some attempt to round out our heroine but it’s debatable whether or not she actually changes or just gives up. This leads us to the problem. This movie’s morals are out of whack. To paraphrase Elizabeth herself, it’s priorities are screwed up. Maybe it’s because I have kids close enough to the age of the students here but the misplaced sense of right and wrong is off-putting. Sure, Ms. Squirrel is on the annoying side but should caring about the kids she teaches make her a villain? Why is it a good, or funny thing that Lynn (Smith), a grown woman and a teacher who should know better, is so easily susceptible to peer pressure? Finally, Elizabeth ends up in a different job which I won’t spoil. However, when you see it ask yourself this: Is it really a good thing she got that particular job?

Before you go labeling me a prude, understand that I’m not at all against the idea of the anti-hero. After all, I’ve been called a degenerate because I think The Godfather, Part II outshines the original. I root for Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). Do the Right Thing gets my heart pumping. The difference is in those movies there is something to debate. The ideas of what we believe to be right and wrong are at odds, struggling against each other over whether the adage that the ends justifies the means is true. In BT, the character we’re supposed to champion is simply wrong.

MY SCORE: 5/10

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