Bad Teacher is a shallow summer comedy for the college-aged demographic
Alongside the comic book heroes, aliens, and cowboys that are dominating the summer movie landscape sits Bad Teacher, a lowbrow comedy hoping to bank on the still-apparent sex appeal of Cameron Diaz and the humor of Jason Segel. Cameron Diaz’s beauty can only take a film so far, though, and Bad Teacher suffers from a serious lack of depth in both the story and the humor. Director Jake Kasdan, who also directed Orange County, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, has clearly made this film for the 18-24 year-old demographic, and as long as those college-aged kids aren’t expecting a Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith film in terms of humor and vulgarity, they’ll get a kick out of Bad Teacher.
Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a vain, greedy, sexy woman who, for some reason, has become the titular bad teacher. The movie opens on the last day of school after Elizabeth’s first year of teaching. After just one year Elizabeth is set to leave teaching for good. She races home in her Mercedes Benz to find her wealthy boyfriend and his mother waiting for her with bad news: she’s dumped. Instead of marrying the man who could take care of her exorbitant financial needs and living happily ever after she finds herself back at the middle school, becoming “across the hall mates” with Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Ms. Squirrel is the complete opposite of Elizabeth; she’s a goody-good teacher that is always trying to overachieve. Both women set their sights on the new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who happens to be incredibly wealthy. Along with pursuing Scott Elizabeth is also trying to find the money to afford breast enhancement surgery. She figures that with a bigger chest Scott will fall for her in an instant.
Bad Teacher is little more than a story of what one woman will do to get bigger breasts. In order to give the smallest minutia of depth, the filmmakers add in Jason Segel’s character: a gym teacher who is attracted to Elizabeth. This addition is so weak, though, that Bad Teacher would have been better off without it. If the characters were more fleshed out, and some reasons were given for his or her actions, this thin layer of depth may have had a stronger impact. As it is, there are a lot of one-dimensional characters that are difficult to care about.
There are a lot of scenes in the film that are completely ridiculous thanks to terrible dialogue by screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. The budding relationship between Scott and Elizabeth, for example, is so poorly written that it barely makes sense, and why Russell – Segel’s character – is attracted to Elizabeth, other than physically, is a mystery that is never revealed. Like in any comedy, the clumsy moments in the dialogue can be forgiven if they make the audience laugh, which Bad Teacher manages. Some of the best jokes in the movie are of the traditional setup and punch line variety, delivered flawlessly by Jason Segel.
This brings me to the most disappointing aspect of Bad Teacher: the underutilization of Segel. When Segel is on screen, the laughs are almost nonstop, and he leaves the audience begging for more. His comedic talent should be exploited in a film like this, not pushed aside for Cameron Diaz spraying herself with water.
Along these same lines, it is the supporting cast that makes Bad Teacher fun, not the leads. Cameron Diaz is inconsistent as the burnout educator, relying more on sex appeal than anything else. Lucy Punch tries too hard to get laughs at too many points in the movie, wearing out her character’s welcome early on. Justin Timberlake gives the worst performance of the whole lot, and seems to be mocking a caricature instead of creating a living, breathing character. Seeing Timberlake grow as an actor from Alpha Dog to The Social Network has been incredible, but Bad Teacher is a major step backward for him. Hopefully this is an anomaly, and not a new trend for Timberlake.
On the other hand, Phyllis Smith (of The Office fame) is wonderful as Lynn Davies, the shy woman who wants to look cool in the eyes of the pretty girl. She takes her character absolutely seriously, never mocking her like Timberlake, and every line to induces laughter. Reno 911 star Thomas Lennon is also stellar in his small role as the naive Illinois state test representative. His scene with Eric Stonestreet – another character I wanted to see more of – is, without a doubt, the funniest in the film. If these characters, including Segel, were in the movie more, Bad Teacher could have been one of the funniest films of the year.
There is no doubt that Bad Teacher will make you laugh a couple of times, but in a genre that has seen the likes of Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow, this film is underwhelming. The dick jokes are good for a chuckle, but the surprisingly shallow story keeps Bad Teacher from being memorable. In a summer chock full of big action movies that are worth the trip to the theatre, skipping Bad Teacher is the smartest option for now as it isn’t worth anything more than a rental when it’s eventually released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Notable Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, and Justin Timberlake
Writer(s): Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg