The summer hasn’t yet delivered totally in the comedy genre. Sure there was the surprise hit Bridesmaids but that was more towards the beginning of summer, since then the most highly anticipated comedic forays have left me wanting. The latest is the newest film from Freaks and Geeks contributor, director Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher. Touted as Bad Santa in a school and a raunchier version of Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher fails to reach the level comedy seen by either film. With a weak story, a cop-out ending and a character that’s forced to be less than she’s presented to be, Bad Teacher is to trite and cliché to be enjoyable.
Elementary school teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) doesn’t enjoy teaching, especially after her fiancée leaves her. In the interim she decides to lie, cheat, and steal the money needed to get a boob job in hopes of finding a man to “take care” of her. She settles on new substitute teacher Scott Delacourt (Justin Timberlake), who unfortunately is interested in Elizabeth’s arch rival Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). With both teachers competing for Scott as well as a bonus for achieving high scores on a state test, Elizabeth will do whatever she has to in order to win.
The movie is definitely a bold move for actress Cameron Diaz. Her role as Elizabeth is one that allows her to be one of the worst people ever. Elizabeth openly abandons her class, leaving them to watch movies, smokes pot and steals from the kids to fund a pair of boobs equal to Katy Perry. Diaz seems to be having the time of her life as Elizabeth, and at times you want her to win because she’s gorgeous and deliciously evil. The comedy usually comes from Elizabeth’s vulgar mouth and the things she does to get money, but sadly most of this has been spoiled in the various trailers and a lot of said trailer footage isn’t in the finished product. The rest of the movie is funny in bursts, mostly in the beginning. Lucy Punch is also fantastically smarmy as the goody-goody Amy Squirrel while the scene stealer is Phyllis Smith as the shy teacher Lynn. At times you wish Smith had more of a role than Diaz or Punch because everything she says is gold.
Unfortunately, Bad Teacher feels likes it’s gone through a whitewash and has been toned down from its original material. As mentioned before the trailers spoil all the good bits and a lot of what was in the red band trailer isn’t in the film. The main problem is desperate yearning to get the audience to love Elizabeth and it results in making her a seemingly good person by story’s end. It’s unbelievable to the audiences who have watched Elizabeth relish in other’s pain and misery for 90 minutes before having her completely reverse in the last two. Had her character owned up to her nature and accepted being mean, like the character of Willy in Bad Santa, it would have been far better. It is this need to have her is accepted that makes the movie feel painfully long. At about the 40 minute mark I found myself looking at my watch because once Elizabeth stops being mean, which is all frontloaded into the beginning, it becomes about her relationship with Delacourt and the mild-mannered gym teacher Russell (Jason Segal). The problem becomes that the relationship with either guy feels forced because we know nothing about them, just that one is wrong and the other right. It seems as though a lot of the burgeoning relationship stuff was left on the cutting room floor. It doesn’t help that Timberlake is way too toned down for this film and Segal is trying way too hard to be “normal.”
In the end, Bad Teacher is funny but only eliciting chuckles. Even now, about 2 hours after seeing it, I’m having trouble recalling jokes or specific scenes that I didn’t see in the trailers. It’s a decent rental but if you want a film that relishes in its R-rating rent Bad Santa or see Bridesmaids again. Diaz is solid and the few side characters are good, but the story is too toned down and bland to make it enjoyable.