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Friday, June 24, 2011

‘Bad Teacher’ Makes The Grade

Bad Teacher: 3 out of 5 Stars
Amy:  Elizabeth, you shouldn’t be teaching.  I mean, I can’t think of anyone less suited to being a teacher.
Bad Teacher is an example of bringing a lot of talented and funny people together to make a movie that should obviously deliver, yet it doesn’t quite knock it out of the park.  Still, while not a grand slam by any means, the film does manage to make it to home plate (and that’s the end of the baseball analogies).  Instead of playing out as a clever satire about a teacher who does not care or as a spin on the teacher who comes into the lives of students and makes a difference in an unorthodox way, this movie is simply a feature-length sitcom.  The film plays as an R-rated, raunchy comedy, where logic does not really apply and the overall plot is incredibly contrived and conventional.  Still, I did laugh quite a bit, thanks to the efforts of the cast.  It’s not a comedy smash, but it is a solid double (sorry, now I’m done with the baseball stuff, promise).


Cameron Diaz stars as Elizabeth Halsey.  As the film begins, Elizabeth has finished working for a year as a teacher, with plans to quit for good, now that she has found a rich fiancé to mooch off of.  Her plans soon backfire, as the engagement is broken off and 3 months later, she finds herself back teaching again.  Elizabeth is not a great teacher by any means.  She does not bother to form any kind of curriculum, cares little about learning her student’s names, and proceeds to play them movies during the day, while she sleeps at her desk.  Things take a turn for Elizabeth when she meets a new teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who is both rich and incredibly handsome.  Elizabeth decides that the only way to get herself away from teaching, let alone working in general, is by winning the love of Scott.  Her plan will now revolve around raising enough money to get a boob job, which would hopefully make her appear to be more of a catch for Scott.  Among the many ways to raise money, Elizabeth needs to now get her students to score the highest on a state exam, which would award her a large monetary prize.

The film also stars Jason Segel as a gym teacher who is not afraid to hide the fact that he is into Elizabeth and will continue to openly hit on her.  Additionally, Lucy Punch stars as Amy Squirrel, a rival teacher, focused on bringing Elizabeth down.  Many other familiar faces pop up as well, including John Michael Higgins as the school principal, Eric Stonestreet (of Modern Family) as Elizabeth’s roommate, Phyllis Smith, and Thomas Lennon.  It is a solid ensemble cast of people who can be very funny.

 
As I have stated, I do think this movie is quite funny, for a film that does not seem to try very hard.  I really would have enjoyed seeing how this movie could have played out if it was more of a subversive comedy in the same vein of a similar titled but far greater film – Bad Santa, but as it stands, Bad Teacher operates at a simple level, which is good enough for a disposable sort of comedy.  Rather than developing interesting characters or an exciting storyline, the film goes for a broader sense of comedy.  Personally, I was hoping for a darker comedy, punctuated by some great laugh out loud moments, but I am not upset at what I received overall.  It is lightweight fun.

In the lead role of the bad teacher, Cameron Diaz is a lot of fun here.  It seems that she has become a bit polarizing for people in terms of her persona in films, but I enjoyed her a lot here.  Ditching the ditziness that she has played up a lot in her past roles, her work as Elizabeth is a welcome change.  Elizabeth is foul-mouthed, blunt, rude, and downright mean to people throughout the film, and Diaz has found a way to make it work.  I would not say I was right there with her as a person, but I did have fun following this horrid character.  The script does not exactly provide her with a character arc that makes her character any more unlikable by the end of the film, despite it trying to do so, but that did not stop me from enjoying this character.


As for the rest of the cast, Timberlake was a lot of fun as the doofus object of affection, clearly showing that he is not afraid to let himself look like an idiot for the sake of humor.  I say that in a positive manner, as I do like him as an actor and his ridiculous character suits this film.  Lucy Punch is also fun as the adversary for Elizabeth, finding the right balance between irritant and committed to playing a certain character type.  It is Jason Segel who becomes the scene stealer throughout this film.  Despite having far less to do than the rest of the cast (and he is technically the male lead in a lot of ways), every scene he is in had me cracking up.

The film was written by frequent writers for the American version of The Office, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky.  As their previous film collaboration turned out to be the awful Year One, I am glad that they have managed to bounce back in a, despite their sitcom roots still feeling very apparent in the way this film has been plotted out and delivered on in terms of comedic style.  Bad Teacher was directed by Jake Kasdan, who previously directed the vastly underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story as well as debuted with the vastly underseen Zero Effect.  For this film, it seems more like Kasdan merely managed to bring a lot of funny people together and let them work, but as a big studio film, I am curious to see where he goes from here.

 
With a film like this, the rewatch value is certainly something that should dictate how much I enjoyed this film.  I would not necessarily want to rush out to buy it on Blu-ray, but I would recommend it to people as a fun film to watch.  It is a quick 90 minute breeze, which does have me curious enough to check out the inevitable unrated edition, stocked with plenty of unused footage, as I do feel there is a lot more scenes in this film that were cut out.  Again, overall I did laugh quite a bit throughout this film.  It is in no way deep or well thought out in terms of its story, but it is an easy enough comedy to get some good laughs out of and Diaz has enough fun letting herself loose.
Elizabeth:  Sign my yearbook.
Russell:  Hold my ball sack.

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