We live in an interesting world where nearly every studio tries to make sure their staple film is PG-13, yet for comedies, they trend towards being vulgar with an R rating. Columbia Pictures’ Bad Teacher doesn’t buck that trend for R-rated comedies with overly adult-themed ingredients yet it never aspires to anything greater than garnering some easy laughs. Cameron Diaz stars as a superficial middle school teacher that just doesn’t care until she has to take on responsibility when her sugar daddy leaves her. While the headliners might be Diaz and co-star Justin Timberlake, it’s the cast of characters around them that shine and give the film a little charm. Although director Jake Kasdan never gives us more than a few smart laughs outside of mostly coarse jokes, the target audience will likely get a kick from the film. Hit the jump to see what Bad Teacher has in store.
Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) has skated by throughout her life and is leaving her teaching job at JAMS after only one year. However, her plans for a life of luxury are stopped dead in their tracks when she is dumped by her fiance and she has to return to JAMS. Her new goal is to earn a breast enlargement in the hopes of ensnaring another wealthy man. That’s when a brand new sub, the loaded Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), drops by and she attempts to win him over. Standing in her way is the lovely Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), a feisty and enthusiastic teacher that has a sneaking suspicion that Elizabeth is there for all the wrong reasons. The two battle it out as the weak-willed Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) and confident gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) watch from the sidelines.
Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Year One), the film manages to make 92 minutes seem like two hours. Bad Teacher definitely starts to sag in the middle when it appears Diaz has won her battle, but it picks up again as the antics are quickly taken to another level. While the film hinders on the battle and bickering between Elizabeth and Amy, it’s the discovery that a huge bonus is up for grabs for the teacher with the best state exam results that changes things. Suddenly Elizabeth sees a chance to not only impress Scott, but also a way to quickly earn the prized augmentation she has been eyeballing. This gives Elizabeth a chance to show what she is truly made of and she doesn’t always prevail. Seeing her frustration and the critiques she writes in the margins of her class papers will definitely get some laughter.
The plot itself is nothing more than just setup to get Diaz to become increasingly crude throughout the film. Instead of even attempting to fill in the blanks, there are large jumps forward in the film at times that get us back to the wild gags. The other curious moment happens near the end when the film seems intent on wrecking the reputation of every character. Even Elizabeth’s arc feels so sudden and out of nowhere that you have to simply laugh that it took her that long to figure out she was a superficial narcissist.
What’s clear is that Stupnitsky and Eisenberg were familiar enough with Phyllis Smith from working with her on The Office to recognize she could shine with longer scenes. Her character is easily influenced by Elizabeth but rarely has the backbone to ever go through with any of it. She constantly second guesses herself, which quickly becomes hilarious as she talks herself down from a number of potential pitfalls. Although the film is laced with raunchiness, it’s at its best when it uses smart quips along with tweaks on everyday sayings to earn its humor. While Diaz sampling a pair of fake breasts gets laughter, it’s moments like Punch’s facial ticks that make her look like a squirrel that are the home runs.
Again, it’s the other cast members that truly shine. Punch’s Ms. Squirrel is so enthusiastic and overboard that she might remind you of that one teacher from grade school that was always a touch too peppy and excited for school. She is incredibly persistent, and her mission throughout the entire film is to take Elizabeth down. When things don’t go her way, she tries to head them off by using her persistence again. She even stalks the principal into the men’s restroom to place blame on Elizabeth. By the time she sits on a urinal, you know this woman has a screw loose. On the flip side is the gym teacher, Russell Gettis, played by the always funny Jason Segel. The writers gave him the most normal role in the entire film. There really isn’t any flare to his character. He smokes some pot, makes astute observations about the stupidity of Scott, and continually hits on Elizabeth despite her insistence that it will never happen.
The premise is there for a hilarious film, but Bad Teacher never strives to be anything but a serviceable comedy. Sure there are quite a few laughs, and some are shockingly raunchy. Kids with erections and dry humping are just some of the more crass things to expect, and for some, that’s all they could ask for. The film is even mercifully quick. Some of the stars, like Lucy Punch, should definitely go on to bigger and better things. She nearly makes the film a solid recommendation by herself and how she played the film with a straight face is beyond me. Bad Teacher isn’t the leader of the raunchy comedy pack, but it does bring numerous laughs if you are looking for a quick, dumb, but funny diversion. The ultimate goal of a comedy is to make the audience laugh, and that’s one thing I won’t claim Bad Teacher failed to achieve.