REVIEW: Cameron Diaz Slinks to the Head of the Class in Bad Teacher

Movieline Score:

Cameron Diaz's character in Bad Teacher is not, to use one of the ugliest coined words to have entered common parlance, "relatable." She's a gold digger, she doesn't give a rat's ass about her job as a nurturer of young minds, she's a frequent and conspicuous user of marijuana and she's desperate to make a quick 10 grand to get a boob job. I don't know about you, but I have nothing in common with her (though there's always room for improvement).

In the grand scheme of Hollywood marketing, woman characters are appealing only when they're self-deprecating, when they allow themselves to be the butt of the joke. Even in a supposedly game-changing woman-centric comedy like Bridesmaids, you can't just be a crude and funny Kristen Wiig. You also have to be a little pathetic, a loser at dating with a recently failed baking business in your past. Bad Teacher is hardly a perfect picture, but in the context of every other comedy on the summer movie landscape -- from the faux empowerment of Bridesmaids to the neurotic frat-guy heteromania of The Hangover Part II -- it feels revolutionary. When Diaz's Elizabeth Halsey, an unapologetic bad apple, slinks into her seventh-grade classroom in black leggings and five-inch Loubs, her bloodshot eyes hidden behind black Ray-Bans, she's not anyone we aspire to be, or even anyone we'd want to be friends with. She frees us from the tyranny of relatability: She's a flagrant, unrepentant fictional character, perhaps the scariest thing a woman in a modern movie can be.

None of that good-girl stuff for Halsey. Our approbation means nothing to her; what she really craves is our disapproval. After being dumped by her rich fiancé, who's finally gotten a clue about her true nature, she has to return to the junior-high teaching job she thought she'd left behind for good. She also has to re-enter the dating pool, and as she laments to one of her fellow teachers, a supportive, dumpling-shaped sweetheart of a woman named Lynn (played, brilliantly, by Phyllis Smith of The Office), "You have no idea how hard it is to compete against these Barbie Doll types!" That's why she wants those breast implants, and she's single-minded in her pursuit of the perfect pair: She leafs through the pages of Us Weekly, circling the most delectable specimens with a magic marker.

The co-worker who has a crush on her, gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) thinks she's perfectly fine the way she is, and he tells her so. But she has her sights set much higher: She's after the school's newest teacher, Justin Timberlake's sexy-nebbishy Scott Delacorte, who just happens to be rich (as schoolteachers so often are). Through it all, she also has to avoid the incessant nattering of another fellow teacher, brown-nosey Amy Squirrel (played by the always-marvelous Lucy Punch), who has Halsey's number and sets out to undermine her.

How does Amy Squirrel know that Halsey is a bad gal? She's perhaps tipped off when Halsey takes over the school car wash, showing up and lathering up in cutoff short shorts and platform shoes. The local dads turn out in droves, a veritable Tex Avery wolfpack, and the event raises so much money that it only figures Halsey would try to tuck some of it into her shirt, figuratively speaking.

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  • Morgo says:

    I concur - I thought Bad Teacher was funny and the character broke the mold of female protagonists in a refreshingly different way. My favourite bit was when she was all alone at christmas like a hobo and she didn't even care.

  • Arg says:

    I haven't seen Bad Teacher, but I take issue with the assertions that Bridesmaids was "faux empowering" and complaints that Wiig 'can’t just be a crude and funny" but had "to be a little pathetic, a loser at dating with a recently failed baking business in your past."
    Plots need conflict for their characters to overcome, obviously, as that's basically plot 101. The worse the conflict, the better and more interesting the resolution and character changes can be. If she had her shit together and just cracked jokes, that wouldn't be as good. The dramatic irony is good. And I don't think there's anything "faux empowering" about a movie written by women with actresses who have really good parts, where the story actually revolves around women. Unfortunately, it does have the wedding subject matter, so I'll certainly subtract that for being a stupidly stereotypical female movie subject, but that's a more minor point.

  • Charles says:

    I think I'm going to wait for the DVD. There are just too many critics disagreeing with Stephanie.

  • ryanandhobbes says:

    I find this refreshing. I liked the movie as well, and it's good to see a satisfying score from a movie that's not trying to be much more than fun.

  • bensonlopez says:

    Bad teacher is good comedy movie and i had watch it many times without any hassles.

  • Charles says:

    Well, I changed my mind and saw the movie. It's not bad -- and definitely better than the overrated "Horrible Bosses." But it does not deserve 8-1/2 stars.