Director - Jake Kasdan
Cast - Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal, Justin Timberlake
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $30.99
Distributor - Sony Pictures
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) isn’t exactly the finest teacher at John Adams Middle School but she could care less; after one year at the school she’s ready to pack it in and get hitched to the man of her dreams, a guy with a whole lotta money. The wedding plans are torpedoed when Elizabeth’s groom-to-be discovers that she’s nothing more than a shallow and heartless gold-digger, which wasn’t easy to figure out since she blew $16,000 of his money in one month and all she gave him for his birthday was a $37 gift card to Boston Market that she received as a going away present from the J.A.M.S. faculty, along with the promise of a blow job). Cut off from her meal ticket Ms. Halsey is forced to crawl back to her old job teaching English to seventh graders, although her curriculum usually consists of having the class watch movies while she nurses a hangover. She seems content to remain a teacher for the rest of her life until the day she meets new teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), a pretty milquetoast guy who comes from a wealthy family. Sensing another opportunity to dig her claws into an easy-to-manipulate heir Elizabeth sets out to woo Scott into a relationship, but there are two factors holding her back from success: Scott’s predilection for woman with enormous breasts, and his burgeoning relationship with endlessly perky teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Elizabeth realizes that her phony fašade alone is not enough to help her compete with Amy for Scott’s affections so she starts scraping money together any way she can to get breast implants. When she gets the word that the teacher whose students get the highest scores in the school on a state standardized exam gets a hefty cash bonus Elizabeth turns to less ethical (and legal) means to achieve her ultimate goal, all the while occasionally helping out a socially incompetent student (Matthew J. Evans) and slowly coming to realize that the school’s sardonic but lovable gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel).
There’s no question that 2011 was a banner year for quality adult comedy. Amidst half-hearted dreck like the Arthur remake and the hugely disappointing Your Highness we got blockbusters (The Hangover Part II), award-worthy surprise hits (Bridesmaids), and unassuming gems that delivered huge laughs (Paul, Horrible Bosses). Suddenly it was good to love R-rated comedy once again. But unfortunately out of all the comedies released last year that showed the most potential the one that disappointed me the most was Bad Teacher, because few comedies were front-loaded with as much top-notch comedic talent as this one. Director Jake Kasdan, the son of writer (The Empire Strikes Back) and director (Silverado) Lawrence Kasdan, had begun his career directing episodes of the underrated television comedy classic Freaks & Geeks before graduating to helming feature films like the droll detective spoof Zero Effect, the sun-drenched screwball comedy Orange County, and the savage and uproarious Oscar-whoring musician biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg were veterans of the U.S. version of The Office. Then there’s the cast: in addition to Cameron Diaz, a talented and fearless actress who has never been afraid to go all out for what a role demanded (after all the movie that rocketed her to stardom featured a scene where she mistakenly used Ben Stiller’s semen as hair gel) in movies as diverse as Being John Malkovich and Gangs of New York, and Justin Timberlake, the former teen heartthrob and pop star who made his mark as an actor in Southland Tales and The Social Network and demonstrated priceless comedic acting chops guest hosting Saturday Night Live, you had a Murderer’s Row of comedic talent including Jason Segel (another Freaks & Geeks alumni made good), John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind), Dave “Gruber” Allen (also late of Freaks & Geeks), Phyllis Smith (The Office), British actress Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz), and Thomas Lennon (The State, Reno 911). In short, how could Bad Teacher be anything but a new comedy classic to be imitated and quoted from for decades to come?
I was asking myself that very question over and over when I finished watching Bad Teacher, and for the life I can’t figure the answer out. Don’t get wrong, Bad Teacher is still a good movie, but fuck man this movie should have been great!
Many times during the movie I’ll admit I chuckled some; Bad Teacher is a funny flick when it wants to be. It just has a lot of problems that almost cause it to sink under the weight of its own pretensions. The greatest of its problems, other than not being as outright hilarious as it could have been, is that there are hardly any characters in the movie worthy of the audience’s sympathy. The most notable is Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey, the titular educator who is the complete opposite of good. Throughout Bad Teacher we see her scheme to fleece decent but na´ve wealthy men of their finances under the guise of loving them, stealing from the homes of students and pocketing funds meant to go to the school just so she can afford a boob job, and committing felonious crimes in order to further her own personal ends, and that’s when she’s not treating everyone who sadly orbits her self-satisfied world with utter contempt while criticizing those who stand in her way as being phony. And just because Halsey has the capacity to occasionally demonstrate some measure of sympathy towards another person we’re supposed to like this person?
Maybe I would have been able to empathize with the Halsey character if the filmmakers and Diaz made her more of a three-dimensional personality instead of a human dirty joke. Sorry fellas, but I’ve seen Cameron swear and dress sexily before and at least in those movies she typically had more of a character to play than she does here. Diaz does what she can with the role and it’s only because of her natural charm and talent that we’re able to not totally hate her character, but there were times during my viewing of Bad Teacher that I secretly wished for Halsey to lose in the end. Quite frankly that’s exactly what she deserves. The title of the movie brings to mind another comedy centered around a lead character who was loathsome on the surface but sweet at his core: Bad Santa. But in that movie the title character played by Billy Bob Thornton was more interesting because he was full of self-loathing at never being able to rise above being a miserable, low-life criminal, and although he thought nothing of screwing others over to ensure his own survival you still felt empathy for him. In the end when he finally started to become a better person it felt organic to the plot and not something forced on the movie and completely out of place for the character. I never felt that for Elizabeth Halsey and that’s a real shame because I always got the sense that there was something in her psychology driving her behavior. Maybe Bad Teacher would have been a more interesting (and possibly funnier) movie if director Kasdan and the writers had bothered to explore those darker areas, but it probably wouldn’t have been as accessible and entertaining to a summer movie-going crowd.
Most of the movie’s gifted supporting cast are summarily wasted as the 92-minute running time (97 for the unrated version) won’t allow for anyone other than Diaz, her two potential suitors, and her romantic rival to take center stage. Higgins and Smith often score the biggest laughs as, respectively, the befuddled principle of J.A.M.S. and Elizabeth’s quiet colleague and possibly her only real friend other than the gym teacher. Speaking of the gym teacher, I’ve been a fan of Jason Segel ever since I first saw him in Knocked Up and subsequently in his own comedy vehicle Forgetting Sarah Marshall and a marathon viewing session of all nineteen episodes of Freaks & Geeks I enjoyed during Christmas of 2008. I still however need to see I Love You, Man although I’ve been hearing for years how funny it is, but that was probably the last movie where Segel’s go-for-break hilarity and vulnerability were beneficial to the proceedings. As wisecracking, lovelorn gym teacher Russell Segel is given little to do but try to wear down Diaz’s defenses and occasionally make sarcastic remarks about other characters. Nothing he does is any particular importance to what’s going on and his mere presence seems to disturb the balance of what is at times a fiendish inversion of the typical romantic comedy story template; the time-honored tropes remain the same, it’s just the roles that have been reversed.
The real standouts in the cast are surprisingly Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch as a pair of unassuming square pegs with hidden perversions that would make a veteran psychiatrist wince. Timberlake is the one whose performance really caught me off guard and his comic versatility is in full force here as the sweet-natured Scott; just wait for his “sex scene” with Diaz because it’s one of the few moments in the movie where I was laughing my ass off. At least he comes off as a more rounded character simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a genuinely nice person who seems to enjoy the company of everyone around him and loves being a teacher. Matching him in the energy and laughs department is Lucy Punch as Amy Squirrel, a character as chipper as her character’s name implies. Armed with a high Northern accent (the movie is set in Springfield, Illinois) and a cheery disposition that is carefully stripped away by the machinations of Elizabeth, Punch is a ramrod-straight force of nature in her every scene. She gives the otherwise dour Bad Teacher a blast of insanity-tinged good will that towards the end will have you either pleased at her character’s eventual outcome or disturbed.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s DVD presentation of Bad Teacher is solid enough for a low-key comedy with absolutely no need for audio or visual kick. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is strong with bright colors in Alar Kivlio’s cinematography and there’s little presence of grain in the video. There are English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that give the dialogue a needed boost and do a great job by the movie’s soundtrack popping with classic rock tunes and a twee music score by go-to quirky comedy composer Michael Andrews.
The extras are slim but mildly amusing, much like the movie itself. On tap are four outtake scenes (4 minutes), six deleted scenes (6 minutes), and two featurettes: Way Behind the Scenes with Jason and Justin (6 minutes) is the best of the extras, a tongue-in-cheek clip where Segel and Timberlake pretend to sit down for a joint EPK interview and end up razzing each other constantly; and Raising More Than Funds (4 minutes), which takes a closer look at the creation and execution of the car wash scene. Previews for Friends with Benefits, 30 Minutes or Less, Attack the Block, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, and Colombiana round out the extras.
I had meager expectations going into Bad Teacher and the movie didn’t fail to meet them, but a part of me really wanted those expectations to be surpassed given the sheer volume of comedic talent on display here. I recommend this movie with reservations only if your local Redbox is cleaned out of superior flicks.