I bet every high school has a few girls like Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) strutting through the hallways. You know, the stunning, man-eating, “break all the rules,” gold digging, straight-talking, superficial bitch who knows that as soon as she lands some rich schmuck she’ll be on easy street. Halsey only has to teach junior high for one year, before she’s filling up a box with her belongings and bidding “so long suckers” to her co-workers. On her last day, she gets into her sports car – with Hers on the license plate – and speeds home. Only there’s a snag to her wed-to-wealth strategy; her future mother-in-law outs Halsey as the gold digger that she is and the engagement is canceled. With nowhere else to go, Halsey reluctantly returns to teaching. But don’t count this resourceful girl out. She bides her time – skating by in her job – while she raises money for breast augmentation surgery. Big boobs equals big bucks. And then, as luck would have it, a new suitor arrives in the form of Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). To Halsey’s joy, he’s attractive and he’s the heir to a great watchmaking fortune. But how to win his affections, when a rival teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), is more his type? Let the games begin.
When it comes to plot, Bad Teacher has a lot of things going on. There’s Halsey trying to raise money for her new breasts – none of them are legitimate methods – and then there’s this aforementioned rivalry between the two very different teachers. Halsey is the quintessence of “bad.” She smokes pot and drinks alcohol on school grounds, and becomes involved in a school sponsored car wash so that she can get “tips” from horny dads. She also has really no interest in teaching or her students. For instance, on the first day of school, she pops in a video of Stand and Deliver, and every day after that shows them a different film – another one that she screens is Dangerous Minds – while she sleeps or drinks alcohol. The red-headed, enthusiastic, appropriately named, Squirrel is her complete opposite. She is fully engaged in teaching and brings an uncomfortable “goofy” energy to her lessons. In fact, her dedication to her craft has earned her the teaching bonus every year. Furthermore, she regularly volunteers to sponsor extra-curricular activities. (Halsey said that she went into teaching for the “short hours” and “summer vacations.” She refuses to do anything more than the basics.) Squirrel is probably still a virgin, and if she has ever tasted coffee, I would be shocked. She does have a Gladys Kravitz (that’s a Bewitched reference, youngsters) nosiness, though, and she quickly discovers that Halsey is engaging in ethically questionable behavior and she alerts her principal, Wally Snur (John Michael Higgins), a man who is truly dolphin obsessed.
It’s probably a bit worrying to learn that Bad Teacher was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, the guys responsible for Year One (2009), and I don’t know if I would have taken a chance on this comedy had I had to pay for it. That said, I was pleasantly surprised that it had some laugh-out-loud moments, especially at the beginning, and other audience members were heard chuckling throughout. There are plenty of cringe-inducing, “I cannot believe they went there” moments in the film. And I’m thinking of a dry hump sequence that made me realize that Timberlake must be open to about anything; and watching Diaz man-handle a woman’s oversized breasts was just wrong. Be warned, this is raunchy comedy and isn’t even remotely intended for children. So use your brains and leave them at home. Diaz is an actress I can take or leave, but she totally OWNS this role. I read a comment on an online board that said that Jennifer Aniston would have been a better choice. Um, in what lifetime? Forget Aniston, people. Please, just forget her already. Diaz is tall, super fit, and has legs that go on for millions of miles. Once she dons her hooker shoes, puts on her makeup, fusses with her hair, and turns on that mega-watt smile, you can guess that any man would be putty in her hands. In this character, she moves effortless between being a calculating and ruthless “lone wolf” to being someone you might like to befriend. She is certainly someone you would call if you needed a revenge buddy. Having seen her in Bad Teacher, I’m thinking that Diaz needs to get out of the rom-com genre and start looking for something more badass. She can work it, and has really earned my respect.
The supporting cast is laudable, and you will probably recognize quite a few people. Higgins is a TV staple, having been in everything from Ally McBeal to Arrested Development, but he might be best known from Christopher Guest’s Best in Show (2000). (He played Michael McKean’s shih tzu-obsessed partner.) Noah Munck, who plays one of Halsey’s student, is an entrepreneurial lawn mower in the TruGreen commercials. (At least that’s how I know him.) Phyllis Smith, the soft-spoken teacher who pals up with Halsey, is a regular on The Office. Eric Stonestreet, Halsey’s roommate, is a regular on Modern Family. (He plays one half of the show’s gay couple; the only characters I liked on this horrible TV show. Can we say a spin-off is needed?) Molly Shannon of SNL and Rick Overton (Gung Ho; Young Doctors in Love) have small cameos as does Thomas Lennon of Reno 911! fame. Fans of Simon Pegg might even recognize Punch, who was in Hot Fuzz (2007). Like Diaz, this British actress commits herself completely to her role. She’s a true talent. Timberlake, too, is very good as the Eat, Drink, Love-adoring, goody-two-shoes teacher. At one point, he performs a really horrible song that he’s written, and this elicited a lot of laughs. (The lyrics are dire.) I’ve saved the “best” for last – Jason Segel. He plays a gym teacher who, despite the odds, vies for Halsey’s affections. I haven’t seen Segel in a lot of films – the exception being Knocked Up (2007) and Despicable Me (2010), for which he voiced a really annoying character – and I truly loathe his TV series How I Met Your Mother, so I wasn’t expecting much from him. Again, pleasantly surprised. I really ended up liking him and his character. He has great chemistry with Diaz, too. They shouldn’t make this a one-off collaboration.
So, after all of this, here’s the scoop. If you like Diaz, you should check out Bad Teacher. This is HER film, and, next to Something About Mary (1998) it’s probably one of her best performances. She redeems herself after the god awful Green Hornet (2011). As a comedy, Bad Teacher has some funny moments/situations, but you had better be prepared for a lot of straight-forward raunch. We had a geriatric couple seated in front of us, and I kept wondering when they would get up in disgust and walk out. (They made it all the way through, although I don’t know if they laughed at all.) If you are an educator, as I am, you might connect with the material better than someone who isn’t. I saw a lot of myself in Halsey sans the sexy clothing, hot body, ethically challenged mindset, and habitual drug use. It’s her attitude that I understood. Who in their right mind wants to work long hours with little pay? I gave up the idea of teaching in the public school system long ago. Also, the scenes during which she’s grading the students’ papers and being brutally honest … hilarious. Who hasn’t wanted to do that? And hurling dodge balls into your students when they get an answer wrong … look out everyone in my fall classes. I have a new teaching method.
Rating: Bad Teacher gets 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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