‘Bad Teacher:’Cynics of the World, Unite!

Pop Quiz: You’re at work and the boss declares a team building day. He’ll take you all to lunch and then play icebreaker games with you. They may or may not involve balloons. Do you a) Volunteer to lead a balloon team complete with its own t-shirt? b) Agree to the free lunch and suffer through the balloon games? c) Order the most expensive thing on the menu and then make fun of the losers with the balloons?

Your answer to this quiz – along with your tolerance for raunchy humor – will determine how much you like “Bad Teacher,” the Cameron Diaz vehicle opening today. If you answered a or b, the movie is not for you. It’s made exclusively for the people who sit in the back and mock anything remotely smacking of goody-two-shoes or caring a little bit.

Diaz plays Elizabeth, a junior high literature teacher who’s in the gig, as she says, for all the right reasons: Summer off, short days, no accountability. Her lofty dreams of marrying a wealthy man have fallen through so she slouches her way through her days, trying to save up enough money to get breast implants. These, she is convinced, will finally help her land Mr. Big Bank Account.

When we say she’s a bad teacher, we mean it. She plays movies every day, sleeps at her desk, keeps illegal drugs stashed in her desk, and harangues the kids. Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) works across the hall from her and is the kind of teacher we all wish our kids had, but wouldn’t like to have as a coworker. Her perky readings are off the charts and her enthusiasm has as much reserve as a tidal wave. A new teacher, Scott (Diaz’s former boyfriend Justin Timberlake) shows up, just as full of idealistic fervor as Amy. Plus, he drives an expensive car, which is enough for Elizabeth.

Amy sees through Elizabeth’s act as does the P.E. teacher, Russell (Jason Segel), although he kind of likes it. So begins a desperate struggle between Elizabeth and Amy for the affections of Scott, with Russell as an amused spectator.

Elizabeth doesn’t play fair, which is what brings the fun to this movie. She’ll do anything for those implants, including but not limited to a highly inappropriate junior high car wash, stealing dolphin figurines to give the marine-crazy principal, and cuddling up to the guy who makes the state standardized tests.

Like a failing teacher entrenched with the backing of the teacher’s union, this film doesn’t give up. Elizabeth is completely incorrigible. She never becomes corrigible. The film keeps her wavering on the line of completely unlikable. There’s no redemption, no nice moral, no happy turn around.

Which, of course, is just the way the cynics among us like it. Just as Ferris Beuler became the embodiment of the fantasy of a perfect high school day with just the right rebellion, so Elizabeth is the embodiment of the desire to spit in the coffee of all the earnest, sincere, hard-working doofuses who make life so difficult for the American slacker.  Goody-two-shoes of the world, beware. Your time is up.

This reviewer expected to hate the movie, but if it isn’t taken too seriously, it works very well. Diaz looks great and completely owns the screen, something that wasn’t assured, given her recent history of flops. She commits completely to the character, creating a self-absorbed and determined woman with her priorities completely upside down. The comedic timing and interplay between the characters is done with perfect pitch. Scott and Amy aren’t bad or hypocritical, just highly annoying. Their obliviousness to Elizabeth and Russell’s mockery is then that much more fun. “The Office’s” Phyllis Smith gives a delightful take on a mousey teacher who partly wants to be cool like Elizabeth and partly just wants to follow the rules.

The movie is rated R and deserves every inch of it. Elizabeth swears like a sailor, talks like an entire football team in the locker room, and does drugs on screen. For a movie this ramped up, the sexual content is surprisingly mild in its graphic nature. There’s a little nudity – as Elizabeth test-drives some inplants- but there is a graphic fully clothed sex scene. The movie doesn’t cross the line to make Elizabeth a pedophile – she’s completely uninterested in the children in any way – the highly sexualized nature of her character makes a few scenes creepy nonetheless.

“Bad Teacher” has no redeeming qualities other than being well made. It will delight the segment of the population for which it is made and then fade quietly into oblivion.


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