Bad Teacher

{Bad Teacher opens in Seattle on Friday 6/24 at the Landmark Metro Cinemas, the Regal Meridian, Crossorads, Thornton Place, and Lincoln Square Cinemas}

I’ve got to admit I was super excited when I sat down to see Bad Teacher with a crowd full of people Wednesday night. While I knew there was a risk that all funny bits were in the trailer, the combination of Cameron Diaz playing an teacher with what appeared to be an “all children left behind” policy and the likable Jason Segel made me uncharacteristically optimistic. Completing what I can only assume to be the conclusion of a trilogy of films started with Bad Santa and Bad Lieutenant focused on people failing in their chosen profession, Bad Teacher applies that formula to our education system.

It’s a watchable comedy that provides a decent number of laughs and a good number of smiles. What it didn’t do for me is deliver the steady stream of deep belly laughs that a great comedy can/should. It’s possible (OK likely) that if I’d gone in without having seen any prior clips from it I might have had a much better time. My suspicion is that this will become one of those things that you watch a piece of with nostalgic fondness when it’s on TV – not quite an Animal House or Old School, but perhaps somewhere in the Dodgeball range. 

As you can surmise from the trailer, poster, or name of the film, Bad Teacher is about someone who doesn’t do a good job teaching her young charges. It’s possible that’s due to a lack of ability, but it’s hard to tell from the extreme lack of caring. When the film starts, Ms. Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is leaving the school she’s been at for a year with thinly disguised glee. Apparently most of the year was spent planning her wedding to her personal moneybags fiance. When she arrives home that fateful day she confronts her mother-in-law and fiance – who are waiting to tell her the relationship is over. Things pickup three months later when she’s back facing another school year – with no man to rescue her. We’re also introduced to the key characters at that point. They include:

– her introverted and extremely suggestible friend Lynn (Phyllis Smith),
– Russell (Jason Segel), a gym teacher with a “can’t take no for an answer” attitude that would be sexual harassment if he wasn’t clearly the right man (in a movie) for her,
– the improbably rich Scott (Justin Timberlake) she will spend most of the film pursuing in a gold-digger frenzy stymied only by the fates of the universe and her periodic marijuana indulgences, and
– Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), aka her nemesis, due to being interested in Scott and a good teacher, not to mention being super chipper. Ms. Squirrel gets on Diaz’s bad side early on for among other things questioning whether showing your class films about better teachers is in fact a legitimate pedagogical technique.

The rest of the film plays out as you likely would expect…if what you expect is a plot in which Elizabeth decides that in order to land the man of her financial dreams all she needs is a new substantially larger pair of breasts. That leads her to run a questionable car-wash, money for grades scams, and the seduction/drugging of a testing official while mistreating a wig from a production of Annie. In between she behaves poorly toward her students while occasionally offering perhaps accurate if overly harsh assessments of their social status. That last part leads to one of the more satisfying moments in the film when she does a kind thing Molly Ringwald style (sort of) to help one of her young students with a hopeless crush.

OK – when you put it that way, I acknowledge it sounds awesome. And it is as I mentioned before, generally pretty funny. Some folks get better lines than others – for example every time Segel spoke I at least mildly chuckled. But what looks like stream of huge laughs from the previews was somehow diluted down to general amusement over the picture’s roughly 90 minute run.

I think the limitation is mostly the script, as all the performance are spot on. Justin Timberlake in particular delivers an incredibly bravely and completely unselfconscious performance as a complete repressed asshat. I guess my issue (other than not laughing half as hard as I did at Bridesmaids) is that things sort of get wrapped up too quickly.  On reflection, we’re supposed to see an episode in the last part of the film between Diaz and Timberlake as her hitting a new bottom that turns her thinking around.  That bottom is pretty significant, even compared with parts earlier in the film when she complains bitterly that pro-athletes always use condoms and then leave with them to ensure no pregnancy hijinks ensure. I will stop describing now lest I poison your potential enjoyment with additional knowledge.

What I guess I’m saying is, I sort of liked the film – enough to say it’s a pleasant night out sort of endeavor. Even though it does rather seriously wimp out in some ways. It’s just that I can’t help but think it could have been so much better.  As it is – if you’ve been lucky enough not to have watched the trailer be sure not to see it if you’re going to catch Bad Teacher.  Nothing good can come of that.