Bad Teacher, released this past weekend when many schools were wrapping up for the year, delivered on humor despite some seriously underused talent.
Cameran Diaz played Elizabeth Halsey, who immediately reminded me of her shallow, petulant character in In Her Shoes. Diaz does “bad” well. The plot setup was formulaic, and one would have thought the course would be predictable. And though I could have put money on predicting the end, there were more than a few unexpected, and very funny, twists in getting there.
So Diaz’s Halsey gets dumped by her rich fiance, and returns begrudgingly to teaching. She doesn’t put much effort into it until it is brought to her attention (by the cloyingly perfect straight-woman, played by Phyllis Smith of The Office) that if her kids score the highest on the standardized test, she could get a huge cash bonus. And, of course, money is what drives this lady.
Having lofty financial goals, she begins to, at the very least, stay awake in the classes she had previously slept through. She even starts actually teaching the kids, who are not quite sure how to respond. Simultaneously, she is trying to attract new staffer Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who can afford to be a substitute teacher and still drive a sports car since he comes from family money.
This is a movie where the main female characters run the show, in stereotypical female fashion: indirectly and passive-aggressively. Sweet-acting on the surface, they brought backstabbing to a new level as they compete for ... well, it’s not clear what. In contrast, the male characters are mostly passive, somewhat strange, and taken advantage of. Timberlake’s character started out as his usual likable self, but unfortunately that fades as the film goes on. Jason Segal, was consistently (if annoyingly) charming, and delivered as he always does. The banter between Diaz and him was simply delightful. The bonus? A great cameo by Molly Shannon, playing at her subtle comedic best in a sea of clowns.
Everyone in Bad Teacher gets an education, even Elizabeth. This is despite the over-the-top slow-motion car wash scene, the repeated and gratuitous references to movies about actual teachers (Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me), and a faux sex scene that, though not explicit, was more disturbing than if it had been. On the flip side, Diaz's roommate (procured from Craigslist) steals a scene or two, and the class field trip sports a scene that may just be the millenium update to the rite of passage scene from Sixteen Candles.
This movie was laugh-out-loud funny in many parts, and despite being predictable at times, wasn’t always that way. The plot was a bit choppy—sometimes I felt like I was watching a movie, rather than being engrossed—but the end came as a bit of a surprise, which was welcome. For a good, hearty, silly laugh, Bad Teacher is not half bad—but only for parents. (It's not appropriate for kids.)
Playing at Owings Mills 17. Rated R.