Bad Teacher really wants to be bad. Playing like a reverse-gender Bad Santa, only far less funny, director Jake Kasdan’s comedy is a cavalcade of dirty jokes, racially insensitive one-liners, and sexually provocative scenarios that barrels through its brief 90-minute running time with the subtlety of a Porsche zooming down a highway full of Volvos. It’s often humorous, powered by an all-in lead performance from Cameron Diaz as the worst seventh grade educator ever put on film, who also happens to be a walking, one-note caricature amongst other one-dimensional characters. And that’s the main problem with Bad Teacher: There’s not a likeable character in sight, which detaches the comedy and leaves the entire movie feeling like a loosely connected string of set-pieces that’s missing a solid anchor.
Fortunately for Bad Teacher, it’s coming right on the heels of the comedic travesty that is The Hangover Part II, a comedy written by lazy dudes who seemingly forgot what genre they were working in, patched together a quasi-remake that’s too dark to be enjoyable and too familiar to work as a mystery. The guys behind The Hangover Part II weren’t content with just making a funny movie—they needed to shake the genre up a bit and raise the stakes, which ultimately backfired in a blaze of fiery inadequacy.
So the fact that Bad Teacher’s only mission is to provoke laughter, minus any genre-bending or tangible morality, is refreshing in and of itself. Kasdan, who previously directed the much better and underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (both veterans of The Office’s writing team) pile the jokes on from end to end, pushing towards a conclusion in which not one character grows and there’s no meaningful resolution; Stupnitsky and Eisenberg were probably out of gags to write about and decided to call the script quits.
A jumpy editor could have chopped Bad Teacher up, reassembled the scenes, and pieced together a movie with totally different continuity and it’d register in the same exact ways as it does in its theatrical state. As is, it’s not so much a movie as it is a gag reel without the dialogue butchery and character-breaks, a collection of moments that capture unsympathetic characters acting in sporadically funny yet altogether marginally memorable ways.
Bad Teacher's Solid And Willing Cast Deserves Far Better
Give it up for the cast, though—they all do their damndest to make the patchwork script click. Diaz knocks it out as Elizabeth Halsey, a despicable elementary school teacher who’s a full-blown gold digger and a careless classroom presence. Having been dropped by her super-rich fiancé, who caught on to her money-grubbing intentions, she coasts through the school days with even less motivation than before, falling asleep at her desk as her students watch VHS copies of inspirational teachers movies (Stand And Deliver, Lean On Me). Her dreams of marrying a loaded guy and quitting her uninteresting job get reinvigorated by substitute teach Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), a friendly softie who’s hung up on his ex-girl, apparently the son of a multimillionaire, and completely oblivious to Elizabeth’s none-too-subtle flirtations.
Liz’s superficial courtship of Scott is disrupted by fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who takes her job seriously and talks to her seventh grade students as if they were pre-schoolers hell-bent on earning gold star stickers. Scott and Amy start dating, which pisses off Elizabeth, though provides the school’s snarky gym teacher (Jason Segel) the opportunity to make his move. Elizabeth, meanwhile, attributes Scott’s disinterest to her humble boobies, so she starts hoarding cash however she can in order to pay for a $10,000 breast implant operation.
As seen on Saturday Night Live, Timberlake has the ability to be genuinely hilarious, which, sadly, isn’t exercised here; saddled with an extremely hokey character, the singer-turned-actor does his best to keep the part tolerable, and succeeds through his unassuming and playful comedic talent. One of the flick’s best moments comes directly from JT, who performs an acoustic version of an original Scott Delacorte song, called “Simpatico,” that rhymes words like “not-ico” and “erotic-o” on its way to becoming one of the (intentionally) worst written tunes ever put to celluloid; knowing that Timberlake was instrumental in penning the lyrics off-camera hints at chops that Bad Teacher isn’t strong enough to fully utilize.
More attention is paid to Punch, a British actress previously seen in small roles in Shaun Of The Dead and Dinner For Schmucks and given ample room by Kasdan here to steal the show, which she does, unexpectedly. It’s a battle of “Who’s the funnier comedienne?” between Punch and Diaz, with each actress impressing throughout. Yet Punch lands the film’s funniest moments, namely a bit in a men’s bathroom where she accosts the school’s dolphin-obsessed, Ned Flanders-esque principal (John Michael Higgins) to reprimand Diaz while the boss is on the crapper.
Bad Teacher’s commercials and posters might show the bigger-named Segel off more than Punch, positing him as the movie’s third wheel behind Diaz and Timberlake, but he’s afforded little to do other than comment on other characters with smart-ass cracks and deliver one undeniably hilarious line (related to Twilight posterboy Robert Pattinson). Even more so than Timberlake, Punch anchors the flick whenever Diaz isn’t on screen. Get familiar with her.
Attention, Filmmakers: Great Comedies Offer More Than Just, You Know, Laughs
With such fun performances, it’s a shame that Stupnitsky and Eisenberg—and Kasdan, as well—didn’t swing for the fences story-wise. The straightforwardness of Bad Teacher's tone is commendable, yes, but it’s also damaging; overly concerned with outrageous gags and shock value punchlines (including a few random and woefully unfunny digs toward black people and “Orientals”), the script ignores the necessity of molding characters for an audience to actually give a damn about. The most powerful performances known to man couldn’t save the detestable jerks and cookie-cutter saps in Bad Teacher from disconnecting with viewers who thrive on being able to relate to characters, even if only slightly.
Bad Teacher is too focused on pushing envelopes and operating with bad taste in the realm of dark comedy. The filmmakers have crafted a movie that’s exaggerated, something that Kasdan’s past collaborations with naturalistic comedy kingpin Judd Apatow (they worked on both Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared together) should have helped to prevent, or at least informed against.
Intermittently amusing and ripe with game actors in top form, Bad Teacher isn’t one to avoid like an ex-girl on Facebook; rather, the Diaz/Punch show is an inconsequential comedy worth a look on a dry night and destined to be forgotten by the next morning. In other words, it’s just not bad enough.