Movie Review: Bad Teacher (2011)
WARNING: HOT-FOR-TEACHER SPOILERS
Whoever produced the red-band trailer for “Bad Teacher” should get a prize. They managed to cull every funny moment from the movie and left us with, you know, this.
It should’ve worked. That’s the way with Jake Kasden movies, isn’t it? “The TV Set”: chronicling the ways TV networks butcher good shows. Should be good! “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”: a satire on every music biopic. Should be good! “Bad Teacher”: Cameron Diaz as a gold-digging, foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, smokin’ hot teacher. Should be good! But all of them are only trailer good. “The TV Set” not even that.
What’s funny? Bluntness. Saying what everyone thinks but no one says. Example: Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith from “The Office”) and Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) are watching substitute teacher, and scion to a watch fortune, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), sit in with the teacher-only band “Period 5” at a local pub:
Lynn: I love how his eyes sparkle when he smiles.
Elizabeth: I want to sit on his face.
Elizabeth was going to marry another scion to another fortune but his mother intervened at the 11th hour and revealed her to be a heartless gold digger, so now she has to keep going with her horrible teaching job, which she does horribly. For the first half of the year she does nothing but show her students uplifting teacher movies (“Stand and Deliver”; “Lean on Me”; “Dangerous Minds,” etc.) while sleeping off the previous night’s drunk. Her goal is to get a boob job to better attract moneyed interests like Delacorte, but they cost, so she: 1) takes in a doofus roommate; and, 2) leads a school car wash in order to embezzle funds. Later she finds out that the teacher of the class with the highest score on the state exam gets a $5,000 prize, and, thus incentivized, she does a 180, drills her students hard and slams them for stupidity. In other words, she’s outrageous when she’s not trying and outrageous when she is. She, and the film, push the boundaries of good taste, as comedies do, to make us laugh. “Sign my yearbook, fucker,” she says to gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) at the end of the school year. He hands her his gym bag. “Hold my ball sack?” he asks innocently. Funny bit. Segel’s great. So is Diaz. So is Smith.
Here’s the problem. While riding the blunt, bad-girl honesty of Elizabeth, who says what everyone thinks but no one says, the film, like some polite Midwesterner, shies away from the thing everyone—or at least every schoolboy—thinks. Which is this:
I want to sleep with my teacher.
I’ll go first. I wanted to sleep with my second-grade teacher, my fourth-grade teacher and my brother’s fifth-grade teacher. This was before hormones kicked in. And none of them looked like Cameron Diaz.
In the car-wash scene, Elizabeth shows up in halter-top and short-shorts, does a Jessica Simpson all over the wet, soapy cars, and jaws drop. It’s as if they never noticed she was attractive before. Yeah. Cameron Diaz. These other characters have an innocence that is either annoying (rival teacher Amy Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch), endearing (Lynn), or unstated and all-encompassing (every student), and the joke in the movie is how Elizabeth rides roughshod over this innocence. But the innocence of her students, particularly as it relates to their budding sexuality and her full-flowered version, is such a lie as to make the entire film reek of falseness.
“Bad Teacher” is supposed to be a blunt, boundary-pushing comedy, but it not only doesn’t push this particular boundary—the “hot for teacher” meme—it pretends it doesn’t exist. It can’t go where Van Halen went 20 years ago. In the end, the movie is as prissy as Amy Squirrel.