BY EDDIE KIM – I would love to sit here and tell everyone that “Bad Teacher”, for all of its raunchy, awkward humor and insult-laced dialogue, is a warm, funny movie at heart. It would be great to say that for what it’s worth, the film tells a charming story about a screwed-up, easily-hated protagonist who lives – and learns – through their experiences, providing viewers with chuckles along the way.
This would be the film some, including myself, probably imagined when viewing the trailer.
Unfortunately, I can’t say any of that. Doing so would make me a liar.
“Bad Teacher”, the film, is much like it’s lead character, Elizabeth Halsey – unapologetically crass, critically mean-spirited and ultimately not as cute or as clever as it could, and should, be.
The film chronicles the odd life of aforementioned Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), whose gold-digging diva ways are turned upside-down when her rich, opera-loving husband divorces Halsey over her money-grubbing nature.
She is forced to move in with a burly stranger she “finds on Craigslist” named Kirk (played with comedic brilliance by “Modern Family” genius Eric Stonestreet) and resorts to taking back her job as middle-school teacher, a gig that she tried out for a year but gleefully planned on ditching.
Essentially, the entire film deals with her desire to land another filthy-rich man who can take care of her. Conveniently, substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) arrives at the school, loaded with family money from his grandfather, a watch designer. Halsey decides that to win his love (or at least his wallet), she must get breast implants.
Unfortunately, such implants cost money, and a lot of it. Which is where the teaching comes in.
If the plot sounds hard to believe, that’s because it is. “Suspension of disbelief” is not a guiding mantra for this film, to say the least.
Ridiculousness is emphatically ever-present in this film, from the whole scheme to get breast-implant money to the epic, inhuman cruelty of Halsey, to the psychotic battle over Delacorte that plays out between Halsey and neurotically energetic teacher Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch).
In fact, one of the film’s main problems is that all these zany characters don’t really seem like human beings, but rather caricatures of faults – Halsey, with her stealing and insulting and manipulative ways; Squirrell, with her freakish, groan-inducing cheeriness and fever-pitched neuroses; Delacorte, who is an easily manipulated, well, idiot; and even Wally Snur (John Michael Higgins), an unbelievably ignorant principal who has a fetish for dolphins.
In fact, the only character who doesn’t come off as a bad joke is gym teacher Russell Gettis, portrayed by the ever-hilarious Jason Segel. Gettis is the only one in the film who isn’t fooled by Halsey’s lies and saccharine artificiality, and it feels like every scene could use a dose of his smartly sarcastic banter.
Really, the faults of “Bad Teacher” can’t really be blamed on the performers – Diaz, Punch and the like all do a fine, sometimes spectacular job – but so much of the movie feels forced, as if director Jake Kasdan and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky decided that they had to make everything extra-insane.
The harebrained plot could be forgiven if the film was just simply fun to watch, but it’s mostly not. There’s only so many minutes that you can watch Halsey be a mediocre human being before it starts to annoy. The contrived montages of a “sexy” car wash and of Halsey convincing parents to bribe her for students’ grades, among others, are eye-rolling filler.
And unlike 2003’s “Bad Santa”, which also featured a crass, kid-hating protagonist, there’s no real sense of charm, of a difficult person struggling to find some sense in it all. “Bad Teacher” is also nothing like 2003’s “School of Rock”, which also featured an incompetent teacher and a crazy, unbelievable storyline. The difference? “School of Rock” was at least entertaining and had some sort of critical character development in it all.
In “Bad Teacher”? Nothing, really. Halsey starts off as a mean-spirited loser, lies and cheats and steals her way to $10,000, and then gets out of all the trouble scot-free. There are little hints of potential change here and there, but the film’s seemingly cheery ending is really anything but.
If you really think about it, the lesson that “Bad Teacher” leaves the audience with is that you can, indeed, be a terrible, terrible person and be happy without ever paying a price. The fact that the film isn’t very funny only makes that conclusion bleaker.
There is already a film out there with easy laughs and silly escapades and girl-vs.-girl angst. It’s called “Bridesmaids”, and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch.
“Bad Teacher”, on the other hand, ends up being about as appealing as the sound of nails against a chalkboard.