Bad Teacher is a film I had no intention to see. I typically have a pretty good handle on my likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to film. This all said, combine boredom with the unlikely conversion of a one dollar scratch off ticket into twenty dollars and you have, well, an explanation as to why, I went against my instinct, and saw Bad Teacher.
Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz, as a deplorable schoolteacher, no make that human being. Her one goal in life is to snag a man with money. No, perhaps her one goal is to gather $10,000+ so she can get fake breasts. Oh wait; she wants the fake breasts so she can snag a man with money.
While the film does have some pretty funny moments, it didn’t nearly have enough of them to snare this one from the clutches of the “Oh my, I could’ve scripted this so, so much better” monster.
The acting was very good though, a true positive to take away.
Jason Segal was his typical, everyday, workmanlike self. He’s a really funny guy and does a great job blending his comedic styling into the roles he plays. Justin Timberlake does a great job portraying a nerdy, superficial and very agreeable schoolteacher. Diaz did an excellent job. She nailed her performance, playing her role to a tee.
Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch, is the perky, goody-goody teacher. She’s really the hero of the film, if this film were based in reality. She’s that person. You know, the one that seems too perfect to be true, friendly to everyone, takes pride in, and loves, her job. Well to make her the villain, the nemesis to Halsey. Her traits are overemphasized to caricature status, thus making her comically annoying. She unhinges, as all “too perfect” characters have to do, as the film wears on. She becomes the rat, another unlikable character trait, as she plays the whistleblower to Halsey’s lack of ethics & illegal activity. She does a marvelous job in this role.
Phyllis Smith is just brilliant in her role as Lynn Davies. She idolizes Diaz, wants to be like her, but because she’s an overly good person, she just can’t behave in the same way Halsey does. A perfect example of this occurs early in the film. Davies & Halsey are having lunch together when Halsey says she’s not going to a mandatory meeting. Davies tells her “but it’s mandatory.” Halsey blows it off like she doesn’t care, which she doesn’t. Smith retorts by declaring she’ll skip it too, but only seconds later she partially retracts, stating she’ll leave halfway through, only to retract again just moments later, when she says she’ll sit in the back of the auditorium and ignore the speech. This continues until she says she’ll stay for the entire meeting. Smith does a masterful job, nailing the role down perfectly.
The acting is not what I have a problem with, in fact I think, as touched upon, all the actors did a remarkable job. It’s the script itself I have a problem with, mainly because of poorly designed character arcs & a resolution I didn’t like at all.
They crafted a downright deplorable person in Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz), but to be a hero you have to learn a lesson, in one way or another you need to evolve. While this does happen, the transformation just isn’t large enough. In fact I’d even argue that her character is rewarded for acting the way she does. Her change can be seen like this:
- Early in the film Smith treats Diaz to lunch. At the end of the film, Smith offers to treat her again, but this time Diaz replies by saying, “no, you treated last time, this time we’ll split the bill.” If that’s not saccharine I don’t know what is.
- Early in the film she refuses to go on a date with Segal. Her reasoning is that he’s a poor gym teacher. He persists throughout the film for no reason, other than that she’s hot. She gives him every reason not to pursue her, but he doesn’t pay any attention to the snubbing. At the end she gives up on her dream of finding a rich man, and settles for Segal. Which was extremely predictable by the way.
- Early, and throughout the film, she really wants breast implants. At the end she decides against having them, saying she doesn’t need them. Yet again easily predictable.
- She cons an education worker into a meeting, where she poses as a reporter. She spikes his drink. Steals the test answers. Which she uses to ensure her students score highest on the standardized test. But she didn’t do this for the sake of the students; she did it for the $5700 bonus. Punch catches her, but instead of paying for her sins, she concocts an inventive storyline. So at the end she receives no admonishment for her actions. In fact, in this mixed up world of Bad Teacher, she gets a promotion of sorts. Ok, not predictable, but there’s no way she should be coming out on top. Even with this being a comedy, you still have to have your character evolve, much more than what the audience is given.
- Early on she tells a young male student that he doesn’t have a chance with the girl he’s crushing on. At the end she sticks with her berating, but does this act of “kindness,” that is played off as if she did such a good and amazing thing for the boy. Yeah, in a way she did help build the boy’s public perception, maybe even help with the kids self image, but, again, realizing this is a comedy, I have to say the way she went about her assistance, is not only ill conceived, but inappropriate as well. Not predictable and yes funny, but it was supposed to be this “oh she’s turning the corner moment” which it wasn’t, at least not in my book.
- About midway through Diaz is invited to Christmas dinner at one of her students’ homes. After dinner she steals a dolphin statue. This was never resolved. Again, promoting ne’er-do-wells behavior, with seemingly no consequence.
One final script issue would be the portrayal of the teachers. They, each and every one of them, are caricatures. Sure we get a few nuances thrown in here and there, like the principal and his over the top devotion to dolphins, but for the most part they were simply lifeless shells. There wasn’t anything particularly special about them.
I don’t care if a character isn’t perfect. I don’t even care if a bad guy wins out, that’s fun to see sometimes. But in comedies you, for the most part, want a happy ending. You could make the argument that we had one. I would disagree. I would say you actually leave the film unhappy she didn’t pay for her sins. I would say you leave feeling bad for Amy Squirrel.
In fact, I may have been okay with this, as unappealing as the resolution is, if they would’ve just gone straight from her con on Punch to her accepting Segal and having the credits roll with them kissing.
The additional scenes just pushed my dislike over the edge a bit. There wasn’t any need to give her, and all her standing demerits, a promotion to conclude the film. Even with the ending lunch invite, it would have been better if she just would’ve said she’d treat Smith this time.
Is it too much to want your main character to overcome some kind of obstacle to achieve resolution? The fact that she didn’t get the punishment that she deserved, is not overcoming adversity, it’s simply sneaking by.
The film was not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. It could have been a pretty good film, if but a few changes had been made.
If you go and see Bad Teacher, go to laugh, as you would if you were going to see the latest installment of Jackass or something like Borat.
I guess my main point is that I laughed here and there, but the denouement was all but non-existent, almost to the point of being anti-climactic. Then again, perhaps this was the writers’ intention all along. In which case, I say touché, well played, and my sincerest apologies.