When I first saw the trailer for Bad Teacher I recall leaning across to the person next to me and saying, ‘This might as well be called Bad Movie.’ It certainly looked like it — a title and concept ripped off from Bad Santa (the one with Billy Bob Thornton) except with a teacher played by Cameron Diaz, who I personally think has the least attractive face of any A-list Hollywood female star in recent memory.
Nevertheless, with nothing else on at the cinema that I haven’t seen (apart from Larry Crowne, which looked like a snoozer), I accompanied my sister, who was visiting from out of town and works in education, to watch it.
And you know what? Bad Teacher is not Bad Movie. Not great, somewhat forgettable, but when all is said and done a slightly above average, highly inappropriate comedy that had some decent moments.
Diaz plays Elizabeth, a mean, selfish and nasty middle school teacher who wants nothing more than to find a rich man to settle down with. She doesn’t give a stuff about her job or her students and is more focused on making money whichever way she can to pay for cosmetic enhancements. It’s set up as your typical ‘bad person eventually becomes good’ scenario, except, to the credit of the filmmakers, it doesn’t quite play out like one.
Despite my prejudices towards Diaz, she’s actually quite good here, and clearly does not have a problem with playing a total bitch. For me, however, the true stars of the film were her co-stars: the marvellous Lucy Punch as the arch rival Amy Squirrel, Phyllis Smith (from The Office) as the sidekick, John Michael Higgins (my favourite lawyer from Arrested Development) as the principal and Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel as the potential love interests. They were all brilliant and quirky in their individual ways, and Timberlake in particular surprised me with his comedic timing and willingness to make fun of himself (for a second almost making me want to break my vow of avoiding Friends With Benefits like the plague). Segel was also excellent with his one-liners, delivering some of the best laughs of the film, but unfortunately his role was smaller than it should have been.
Having said these nice things, Bad Teacher is nothing special. It has a few funny moments and one-liners but hardly anything that tips it towards ‘hilarious’ on the laughter scale. While it is raunchy and risque in some parts, it could hardly be considered pushing the envelope in this day and age. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given some of the crap films of late that try to shock more than amuse, but I had a feeling that, given the potential of the premise, a lot more could have been done to make the film much much funnier, and consistently so.
One thing that needs to be said about Bad Teacher is that it’s a film targeted firmly at adults who can appreciate inappropriate and black humour. Having seen the doco Waiting for Superman, I understand that there are undoubtedly teachers just as bad as or worse than the ones depicted in this film, but one should remember that it’s all supposed to be this out of control and farcical.
Ultimately, Bad Teacher was nowhere near as horrible as I expected it to be, but at the same time it left me strangely disappointed because I knew it could have been a lot better.
3 stars out of 5