The quadrant of America that rails against the “lamestream media” is the same that claims that the educational system is terrible, that kids don’t learn the important things, and that, because education is so bad, funding should be withdrawn from schools. Bad Teacher plays right into the fears of the “heartland”: teachers are apathetic morons and the only lessons that your children need are the filtered teachings of Jesus.
It’s not a good movie, and it’s hard to see who it’s designed to appeal to: it’s a dumb comedy with feigned bite, occasionally falling back on racism and homophobia to generate laughs. If you think that the implied erection of a grade school boy is hilarious, then this film is for you.
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is dumped by her fiancée after he realises that she’s an unpleasant gold-digger. Forced back into teaching to make her living, Halsey brings a special brand of contempt to the job, while avoiding the irritating Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), deflecting the advances of Russell (Jason Segel) and trying to seduce apparently rich substitute teacher Scott (Justin Timberlake).
Bad Teacher is an ineptly constructed film, never traveling in a straight line towards clear goals when it can drunkenly stumble around in a haze of marijuana smoke and pretending that this is enough to be funny. It’s hard to tell exactly where Jake Kasdan is directing Cameron Diaz, who seems largely content to sleep at her desk when she’s not engaging in petty fights with the insufferably perky Amy.
It can’t have been that hard to make a film in which Cameron Diaz and Lucy Punch played bitter rivals with different approaches to teaching in an elementary school and a shared love interest, but Kasdan isn’t content with the simple path of action: the script resembles a lazy hotchpotch of ideas spread across a school year in which little in the way of plot or character development occurs, until it eventually concludes with something that distinctly smacks of injustice being served.
Kasdan has presented a movie with no balance of characters: they’re all horrible. Elizabeth doesn’t care about anything but money, Amy somehow gets results from her students despite her gimmicky approach to her job and the fact that everyone hates her, and Scott is kind of racist and makes an incredibly awkward “pro-choice” joke. Jason Segel’s Russell is nice enough but, for the movie’s “secret” love interest, he barely features at all.
The performances themselves are serviceable, although the children are wasted in nothing roles when the film wants to remember that there should at least be the pretence of teaching on screen. Semi-famous or cult comedians cameo in negligible roles, with Molly Shannon noticeably featured in the opening credits and on screen for mere seconds with no jokes escaping her lips. You’d best be prepared, if you see this movie, to have to dig hard to find something recognisable as a joke. The film is not wholly devoid of laughter, but it’s near enough that you might be hard pressed to recall anything notable about it in a positive light afterwards.
Bad Teacher suggests that someone can just fall into a teaching job without any apparent qualifications or the appropriate attitude. Surprisingly we never learn that Elizabeth was once a good teacher who got burned out by something; each character is blessedly free of a haunting past – or indeed of anything that happened before the film commenced. Elizabeth somehow managed to work at the school for a semester without meeting Amy, her nemesis, who is established as a staff member of six years standing. Nothing contained herein makes a semblance of sense, least of all the dry-humping scene. Bad Teacher rewards lazy viewers who don’t care, and exactly nobody else.
The American R rating that this film secured was simply licence for old-fashioned exposed breast content, a few “fucks”, the excuse to feature an unfunny homage to Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro (remember Pedro?) and a few variations on the word “faggot”. The best way to describe it is as a pale shadow of the Owen Wilson vehicle Drill-Bit Taylor, which itself was a terrible movie that had no business existing.
There is no place in this world for Bad Teacher, and I don’t know who to blame for it. Your quality of life will actually improve through the simple act of not watching this film, so take my advice: stare at your wall for 92 minutes and become a better person.