Full disclosure? When I’m not busy mapping human genomes, bullfighting, or posting snarky comments on the internet… I teach social studies to middle school children. The latter is the most perilous (and amusing) of my hobbies, so I was excited to see that a movie called “Bad Teacher” was on its way. I have found that teaching kids can be a rewarding yet vile, corrupt, inappropriate, and even hilarious enterprise. Judging from the previews it seemed like this Cameron Diaz vehicle would give exposure to those aspects of my job.
(FYI – I write spoilers. This isn’t exactly “Citizen Kane” we’re talking about, so if that sort of thing bothers you I suggest you visit www.uptightmoviedorks.com.)
While BAD TEACHER is not entirely unfunny… I felt like this movie missed the mark. The title evokes memories of Billy Bob Thornton’s role as “Bad Santa.” That film was great because the main character continued to push the sleaze envelope until the audience found him to be – on some level – a likeable character. Unfortunately this film never gives us a reason to root for the bad guy.
Cameron Diaz is believable as an inept gold digger, however she isn’t compelling enough to hold down an entire movie as a loveable asshole. I’m willing to concede my own misogyny here when I say that cruel and crass men strike me as funnier than cruel and vapid women. Maybe it was coping with a female asshole lead that caused the writers of this screenplay to back off the sleaze. The story occasionally swerved into the right path – I was a fan of Cameron lighting her bong with the gas range and offering to suck her fiancé’s dick like she was “mad at it.” Still, there were plenty of low-life jokes that were left unclaimed.
For example: Why did the writers introduce and then virtually ignore the train wreck of a Craig’s List roommate? Why did we never get to enjoy the meek and corruptible co-worker slipping into depravity? Why pay such short thrift to Cameron’s scheme of ripping off her bra and giving it to the shy boy as a trophy? It’s as if the writers made a conscious decision to develop an amoral character, but backed off when it came time to have the character behave terribly. The “Bad Teacher” set-ups never play themselves out in a satisfying way. I can’t help but think that somebody involved with this film held back because the film had a female lead.
I also felt like the actors paired with Cameron Diaz never really found the funny they were capable of. Jason Segel shared no comedic chemistry with any of the characters, which is a shame because I think he’s a funny guy. His talent was pretty much wasted by spending most of the movie making exasperated “oh no this bitch didn’t” facial expressions. Lucy Punch was meant to play goody-good foil to Diaz’s sour bitch… you know, the type of person so sweet and doofy they make you want to cringe? But her character also suffered from passive writing, and the inevitable “meltdown” scene left a lot to be desired. Justin Timberlake’s character stood out, but was notable only because of the strength of his joke delivery. The dry-hump “Oh Face” scene is just another reason why I think JT needs to join the cast of SNL for an entire season (Here are a few other reasons).
The writers were on to something early on when Cameron Diaz taught her class by showing “good teacher” standards like STAND & DELIVER and LEAN ON ME, all the while behaving indifferently towards her own students. The interaction between the kids and adults is what was missing from this movie (and is what ultimately gave an “asshole driven” film like BAD SANTA its heart). The audience spends most of this movie observing adults interact inappropriately… yet most real teachers seldom interact with grown-ups for more than a few minutes daily. Dealing with – and then warping – pliable young minds should have been what BAD TEACHER focused on.
Educators in the audience must have squealed with delight when Cameron Diaz graded papers with “Stupid,” “Stupider,” “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read,” and “Christ, what the FUCK are you talking about?” Socking kids in the face with a kickball because they miss an answer? In my dreams. Classic “good teacher” movies earn that status by highlighting a positive relationship between teacher and pupil. This movie would have done well to find a funny juxtaposition to that model.
I wanted to laugh at all the things I wish I could get away with in a classroom, but never would do. I wanted humorless teachers to be outraged, and uptight parents to wave insipid placards in protest at the local theater. I wanted to be made uncomfortable by watching someone tinker with the dark side of having the power to influence young people’s minds. Instead I got a movie that showed promise, but never lived up to its potential. It was the stuff that mediocre grades are made of.
__________jayare can be found spouting nonsense on his own twitter feed @jayare20k, or on his blog consumption addict.