The storyline of an attractive but financially challenged woman trying to attract a rich man is nothing new. In the 1950s Marilyn Monroe played that role in both How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In those films the comic heroine might have had a plan to get her man, but it was charm and innocence that hooked him.
Bad Teacher is the 2011 version of the same classic plot. But this time around director Jake Kasdan decides to fish in much darker waters. There is absolutely nothing sweet, innocent or charming about the heroine here.
I’ve got to give Cameron Diaz some credit for playing a part most women are going to hate. As Elizabeth Halsey, she’s a comedic antihero. Totally self centered, gold digging, and obsessed with the idea that double ‘D’ tits will help her land a rich husband.
The opening scene about Elizabeth losing her amazingly gullible fiance provides the first clue this movie is not about real people.
Her devastating encounter with the future mother-in-law clearly shows how shallow she is. The wedding is off. Now Elizabeth must return, bitter but not broken, to teaching seventh graders.
For Ms Halsey being a middle school teacher is a means to an end. Educating young minds is not part of the plan. The classroom is there to provide hangover relief while the students watch cliché movies such as Stand by Me, and Dangerous Minds. Her focus is entirely on the search and seduce mission. Enter the nerdy and hopelessly gullible substitute teacher Scott Delacorte. As soon as Elizabeth discovers he’s from a moneyed family, she’s on him like an missile with an infrared guidance system.
This is another clue that this movie is not about people that live in the real world. I mean really? A dorky middle school substitute teacher with an 8 figure trust fund?
In any event, he is the perfect counterpoint to Halsey since he has no focus other than passionately believing in every popular cause that comes along, no matter how vapid. For example, he thinks it’s wonderful that Ethiopians have their own cuisine. To Delacorte it means Ethiopia has a real identity. In another scene he sings his own love song to Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Amy is Elizabeth’s arch enemy and competition for Delacorte’s affection.
It’s a moment when you don’t know whether to laugh or squirm in your seat. It’s not as bad as Mark Wahlberg singing “You’ve got the touch” in Boogie Nights, but close. And it’s not the only moment that might make you squirm a little.
It’s a Hollywood maxim that the audience is supposed to like the protagonist, and for a character as unappealing as Elizabeth Halsey the only option is for her to achieve some level of redemption. The screenwriters and Kasdan do make a token effort at the redemption story line, but their hearts are not in it. There’s one moment when Elizabeth reveals some personal insight. It comes when she helps her student Garrett Tiara, played by Matthew Evans, get over a particularly humiliating moment. The teen object of Garrett’s affection, Chase, played by Kathryn Newton, has a crush on some moronic rapper. Elizabeth explains the rapper crush in the context of the reality of middle school romance.
Wow, it turns out that Elizabeth has a tiny bit of empathy buried beneath her vulgar shell.
So there you have it. All the characters are one dimensional, and played just a bit over the top. It’s all about the gags. This movie is not about subtle humor, and the actors play their parts appropriately. As the star, Diaz is just a bit more outrageous than the rest. From the stripper heels she wears to school to her complete lack of moral boundaries, Diaz is unrepentantly focused on getting the money she needs for her boob job.
Diaz knows how to do humor. But this role is not about the innocent charm of Something About Mary or the classic 1950s movies. If this film is going to work as a story it needs to go to a dark place, and in the end Kasdan and the screenwriters don’t deliver the goods. Instead we get an adult popcorn movie that’s a series of comedic vignettes. Some are quite funny, but a series of cute jokes doesn’t make a story that we really care about. Then again, not every movie needs to be deep and meaningful, hard ‘R’ rated humor can be it’s own reward.
Bad Teacher was released in June 2011. It had an estimated budget of $20,000,000 and had made over $100,000,000 before the end of the year. Do you need finely drawn and deeply sensitive characters to make money in Hollywood? Hell no. Do all the bad reviews from female critics matter? Not when it comes to profits. And not when it comes to laughs.
What matters is that Cameron Diaz is still kinda hot at 40ish, and she’s perfectly cast as an outrageous character in a movie with a great supporting cast and gags that keep coming. It’s not highbrow, but it is entertaining and funny. If that’s what you’re looking for, Bad Teacher is good value.
The other players
Russell Gettis, the goofy gym teacher is played by Jason Segel. Russell is as close to an adult as you’ll find in this movie. He lives under the delusion that being cute and persistent will gain the affection of the hot girl.
Lynn Davies is played by Phyllis Smith, who played Phyllis Vance in the TV version of The Office. In Bad Teacher she plays the sidekick role to Elizabeth and does a great job.
Matthew Evans received a Young Actor award for his portrayal of Garrett Tiara in Bad Teacher. Well deserved.
No commentary tracks. This is interesting, I wonder if Hollywood is giving up on this standard feature? Then again, maybe there wasn’t a lot to say.
There are 4 outtake scenes, with one having several takes. Some good chuckles here. The scenes that were extended versions of existing scenes are interesting. They suggest some tight editing. Makes you wonder what else wound up on the cutting room floor.
There’s a total of 6 deleted scenes that range from Dr. Vogel Discusses Breast Enhancement to Elizabeth Comforts Student. For the most part they don’t add much to the story and were properly deleted. Deleted scenes is a a feature I like. Let’s you see something about the script development and the director’s style.
Way behind the Scenes with Justin and Jake (5:38)
The classic “Behind the Scenes” featurette usually consists of the director, maybe a producer, at least two of the key actors and sometimes other key people like the director of photography or editor, talking about how everybody was both talented and amazing to work with. In other words, marketing BS. I don’t know why they do this since we’ve already bought the DVD.
They didn’t go this way with Bad Teacher. This short piece is just Jason Segal and Justin Timberlake trying to spoof the typical featurette. Sadly there is nothing useful or informative going on here. The improv humor doesn’t cut it either. I guess they just needed some filler and these guys got drafted.
Raising More than Funds (3:31)
This is a discussion of the car wash scene. There are comments and quips from the Jake Kasdan, Lee Eisenberg (producer) and Debra McGuire (costume design) about creating and filming the scene. Since the car wash scene has become the visual most strongly identified with the movie it’s good to see at least a few seconds of how and why the scene was made. It’s also interesting that there is no similarly strong scene about character development or plot resolution.
Elizabeth to Lynn:“…get your ass over to those cowboys”
Lynn: “Well I’m glad I wore my fun underwear”
Lynn talking about Scott: “I love how his eyes sparkle when he smiles.”
Elizabeth: “I want to sit on his face.”
Russell: “I”m going through such a tough time, can I have your panties?”
Elizabeth: “I’m not wearing any”
|Stars||Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake|
|Genre||Comedy, Black Comedy.|
|Rating||R for language, sexual content and minor drug use.|
|Runtime||97 minutes for the unrated version.|