You ever go to make yourself a nice batch of eggs for breakfast and get one with blood in it? It kind of ruins the whole experience. Sure, the rest of the eggs are good, but you think to yourself, “This whole carton’s kind of spoiled now.” That was my fear with Bad Teacher, namely that Cameron Diaz would spoil a movie filled with other, far more awesome actors. Diaz is up there with Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie in the “I don’t see the appeal” category for me, but as a film reviewer it’s my duty to be as objective as possible. That said, I went into Bad Teacher with my best foot forward. Did Diaz turn out to be the bloody egg or did everything turn out better than expected? Join me after the jump to find out.
Bad Teacher tells the story of Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz), a gold-digging, alcoholic, nasty bitch of a woman who also happens to teach seventh grade, because why the F not? Set to retire from teaching after one year of scraping by in favor of marrying her rich fiancé, Halsey comes home from the last day of school only to be confronted by said fiancée and his mother, who tell her that the wedding’s off because they know she’s a gold-digging, trifling-ass ho. Flash forward to three months later and she’s back at the school, an even worse excuse of a human being than before. The gym teacher, Russel Gettis (Jason Siegel) wants to date her, the neurotic schoolmarm Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) just wants to be her friend, and the cute, redheaded over-achiever across the hall, Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch) wants nothing more than to crush her. Toss in Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), a rich sub who happens to be the heir to an expensive watch fortune, or something, and you’ve got a recipe for something. I won’t say something good, but definitely something.
Cameron Diaz plays her role as Halsey just fine, but the real problem lies in the fact that Halsey is simply F-ing awful. She has no redeeming qualities, and may possibly be an even worse human being than Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie from Bad Santa. He, at least, does the right thing at some point. There are one or two occasions (leaning towards one) where Halsey is able to look beyond her quest for fake boobs and a man to provide for her, but they do little to redeem her, and we end up with a completely unredeemed character in the end who doesn’t even get a good heelturn. It just kind of…doesn’t give an F. It’s like they channeled all the unlikable-ness from Tiny Furniture and shoved it into one character. Taking a page out of Sixteen Candles to help the dork your ‘protagonist’ spends the entire film berating doesn’t make her a likeable character, it just makes her kind of creepy. On the bright side, you definitely get to see Cameron Diaz fondle a large breasted woman. It’s the little things that get you through in this life.
Out of the supporting cast, the shining star is Jason Siegel. He doesn’t do much besides fawn over Diaz’s character for some bizarre reason, but he by far gets the best lines. Phyllis’s Lynn is similar to her character on The Office if you spliced a heaping helping of Twitch from South Park into the mix, resulting in an endearing, loveable character that feels fresh and familiar at the same time. John Michael Higgins plays the dolphin-obsessed principal Wally Snur, and like any film he’s in, he is a welcome addition to the cast. A scene between him and Lucy Punch in the bathroom is one of the highlights of the film. Speaking of Punch, she and Timberlake are both great actors, and play their roles with great zeal, but they don’t really get to go outside of “nemesis” and “love interest,” and the whole conclusion of the film does little to help that.
Speaking of the end, that’s where the film really lost me. Elizabeth Halsey spends 98.7% of the film being an absolute wretch, and just when everything appears ready to collapse on her, surprise, everything turns out better than expected. She gets away with her criminal act, her nemesis gets royally F-ed, and Halsey is suddenly all the better for it. Bullshit. There is no moral to this story. In the end, she makes an unbelievable decision that goes against the rest of the movie, in no small part to the slim character development, and when the credits rolled I felt cheated. Everything worked out, all the clichés were fulfilled, but the protagonist was unredeemed. It wasn’t fair.
The most redeeming quality of this film is far and away the ensemble cast. As I mentioned, Siegel, Punch, and Timberlake are all pretty good, but the sheer amount of awesome minor characters is staggering. You’ll spend most of the movie going, “Oh, hey, it’s that guy/girl!” and then frown when they leave the screen and you’re stuck with Diaz again. Just a tiny cross-section of the film’s bevy of supporting characters includes Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet as Kirk, Diaz’s moped-riding roommate who knows as much about her character as her character knows about any of her students (“You’re not going out with all the other nurses?” “…I’m not a nurse.” “Really?”), Jerry Lambert, better known as Playstation’s Kevin Butler, as a student’s father who’s all too happy to slip a twenty into Halsey’s greedy paw to make sure his child is taken care of, Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon as Carl Halabi, the guy with the access to the second-act plot device, and Matt Besser of Upright Citizen’s Brigade fame as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who may well not be equipped for his job. All these characters were like life preservers dotted around the sinking ship that is Elizabeth Halsey.
Another problem I had, and my compatriots agreed, is a lot of the funniest moments were in the trailers (especially the Lebron vs. Jordan argument between Siegel and a student and dodgeball scene). It may not be a problem for people who don’t regularly attend the theater, but when you’re there every Thursday at midnight, you see a lot of the same trailers over…and over…and over again. Forgetting the gags is impossible, and while they were still funny, they were not as funny as they could’ve been if I’d walked into the film fresh.
You know how in Employee of the Month, Dane Cook’s character is a loveable slacker who tries to get the girl by trying to beat the nasty rival to win Employee of the Month? Bad Teacher is kind of like that, except Diaz’s character is completely unlikable, the rival starts out relatively harmless but grows nastier in proportion to Diaz’s character’s schemes, and the love interest is virtually incidental. Bad Teacher is a cliché-ridden movie without the benefit of Protagonist Redemption. However, a tragically awful main character isn’t enough to sink this movie. A strong supporting cast and absolutely tremendous bit players make this movie worth a watch, and besides, you get to see Cameron Diaz grope a bare-chested woman with surgically-enhanced breasts. That’s worth something, right?
Overall score: 6.00 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
Matthew Razak: 6.0 — Okay: Far from as clever as it wants to be Bad Teacher still delivers some solid laughs, and it never hurts to have Cameron Diaz do a sexy car wash scene either. Unfortunately, Justin Timberlake hams it up a bit too much to really be that funny. Thankfully, Jason Siegel is there to be amazingly hilarious. Any scene with him and Diaz in it is packed full of fantastic one liners. The story is a bit of a non-starter too and glorifies cheating in a big way, which seemed a bit odd to me. Most films have some sort of takeaway at the end and this almost felt like it had barely moved anywhere. The biggest life lesson was “don’t get fake boobs.” If you’re looking for some raunchy laughs you could do worse and be far more bored, but don’t expect a comedic classic out of this one.