A Review of Bad Teacher

There is a very funny film buried in here, but a very poor casting choice has doomed the film. I have never understood the appeal behind Cameron Diaz. She cannot act and has not really been able to fall back on her appearance since 1998. In every interview I have seen, she comes across as an insufferable drip who thinks she is the smartest woman in Hollywood but is mistaken. And do not even get me started on the wasteful, hateful mess that was her MTV show, that had her going to third world countries and observing their wretched poverty as though it was some sort of exhibition put on for tourists. She is probably one of the least deserving Hollywood stars in existence, who coasts through an Oliver Hardy-esque existence of forever being the idiot who thinks they are a genius.

And she is the one that was cast a character who was meant to be intelligent enough to pull of various criminal schemes but simultaneously stupid enough to talk about her upcoming boob job to everyone she meets? I didn’t buy it for one second of the run time. It’s a shame, because this could have been a great comedy and does feature some great performances from Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, and Jason Segel. But then Diaz ruins it all every time she appears on screen.

The titular Bad Teacher is a woman named Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) who is constantly looking for a rich man to support her lavish lifestyle, and ignoring people who are actually somewhat like her (in this case, Segel’s Russell Gettis, who works as a gym teacher at the same school as Halsey). Anyway, she has been dumped by her fiance and finds herself teaching again. She does not take the job seriously, and is really trying  to save up money for a breast enhancement operation. She meets a substitute named Scott Delacorte (Timberlake) who is rich, but also incredibly stupid. While she is fighting for his affections with rival teacher Amy Squirrel (Punch), Halsey also tries to find a way to raise money for her surgery, first by embezzling money from a car wash, then by cheating on a district exam.

This movie desperately wants to be Bad Santa. It features a similar loser character who seeks to be redeemed through children. Both films also have a sense of realism (these “bad” characters undoubtedly exist in real life) and both films even have the same title. But Bad Santa had a character whose life felt out of his control, who genuinely wanted to do good but was unable to do so.Bad Teacher’s Miss Halsey feels like a jerk from beginning to end, and is that way because of her own miserable choices. She never tries to correct her mistakes, and never receives any sort of retribution for them. Now, I don’t want to sound like someone who is trying to uphold the Hayes Code, but redemption is something a character needs to earn. Miss Halsey does not – she is a crook who never apologizes and views her becoming less shallow as a personal accomplishment.

It was something that utterly killed the film for me. It did not ask me to empathize with the protagonist. It flat out told me to, and then seemed shocked when I did not want to to along with the plan.  Diaz does play a jerk fairly well, but she cannot switch between the two personality traits that are called for. There is no scene in which she stops to wonder what she is doing with her life. 

What makes the film even more egregious is the fact that every single member of the supporting cast actually did seem to take the premise seriously. Punch played her teacher as a manic depressive, a woman who cannot talk to anyone without thinking they are six year olds. Timberlake’s character is more of a wind up toy that acts as though it is human, parroting anything that is said to him. Even the Principal (John Michael Higgins) seems to embody what the typical school principal is – a man who cannot get a moments piece and is buried under trivial issues. If the film had been built around those characters, it would have been a wonderful comedy about what happens when the students leave a school. They could have even used the “bad teacher” angle. But the Diaz character was not the person to focus an entire film around.

I know that many parts of this review will come across as unreasonably cruel, like I am just picking on Diaz who is rakes in more money than I will see in a lifetime. But Bad Teacher could have been very funny and still has a lot of potential, and Diaz is solely to blame for its numerous failures. I can think of many women who could have done a much better job with the role. Sarah Silverman is one person, as is Catherine Tate. Anyone but Cameron Diaz. Her arc is nonexistent, the character she plays is wildly inconsistent, and the supporting characters come across as much more interesting. This was a film that hinged on one person, and that person was unable to hold the film together.

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