TAKE TWO: Bad Teacher

27 Jun

Bad Teacher

Rated: R

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch

Director: Jake Kasdan

Chris’ Take: Bad Teacher is shameless.

And I don't mean like the hilarious Showtime show.

Films like this, where the protagonist is the projection of the darker side of our nature, are usually good for a laugh. However, unless you have some sort of way to relate to this person as a decent human being, the jokes run ragged and it becomes confusing as to why we are rooting for this person.

Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) hates her job as a middle school teacher, and is set to quit. After her plans to marry a sugar daddy fall through, she is forced to continue educating the young until she can find another man to latch on to. The new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), comes from a rich family, so she immediately tries to seduce him. Elizabeth finds out that Scott has a thing for women with large breasts, so she buckles down by any means necessary to beat out arch-nemesis Amy (Lucy Punch) in the state’s standard test and get the bonus that will pay for implants.

I normally hate Cameron Diaz in just about anything, and I didn’t find her as annoying as I usually do. I liked her as the sarcastic and lazy Elizabeth Halsey. She played the role well and she did provide a fair amount of humor. However, the script didn’t offer her enough to work with to make her a well-rounded character. Films like this usually have moments where the character learns something, and then overcomes some sort of struggle which allows the audience to relate to them and share in the victory of the character (even if it is twisted), like in Bad Santa or Bad News Bears.

The old one, not the crappy new one.

The problem with Bad Teacher is that Elizabeth really doesn’t learn anything, she just kind of cheats her way into every victory without any consequence at all, so the movie really is without shame and it is kind of unsettling. I am usually for movies that find a way to defy conventions, and this one certainly did, but it was missing something to tie it all together and I can’t put my finger on it.

Jason Segel stole the show every time he opened his mouth. Justin Timberlake has proved he has comedic chops, and was touted as the second star of the film, but Segel outshone him in every scene.Unfortunately, he was not around very much in the movie, and the romance between him and Cameron Diaz was  forced and un-convincing. The only thing they had in common was that they liked to smoke pot and make fun of other teachers. Segel’s character didn’t add much to the movie as a whole either. He was like a side note, even creeping in each scene like he had no involvement in anything going on, making a welcome quip and then leaving.

The comedy was solid for a while, I laughed a fair amount, but it started to fizzle out about two-thirds of the way through the movie. Disgruntled, but witty lines from Diaz were soon replaced by more physical comedy and sight gags, and never found a good mix of dialogue and visually driven humor. Director Jake Kasdan has a talent for finding that balance, as seen in the under-appreciated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but it wasn’t prevalent here.

While I’ll try to refrain from spoiling anything in case you still want to see this movie, I thought the ending ruined anything positive that had been set up previously in the film. It didn’t make sense. It was like there were 15 minutes of character development that all of a sudden happened and we missed. It seemed like completely different characters showed up to film the ending scenes. I usually think movies could benefit by cutting several scenes, but I think Bad Teacher would’ve been better if it had maybe 10-15 more minutes in it to explain how we got to the conclusion.

I think this film could’ve been a solid “B” to “B+”, but because of the unlikability of its protagonist and the debacle of an ending, it falls far short of that. I still hold out hope for Kasdan’s feel for directing comedy, but if this movie proved anything positive, it’s that Jason Segel’s comedic future still looks bright.

OVERALL: C

Like Chris, I usually steer clear of all movies involving Cameron Diaz, at least since Gangs of New York, and I love that movie despite her.  However, this role seemed like a perfect fit for Diaz, and I had high hopes that she’d return to the comedic chops we saw in There’s Something About Mary.  While Cameron’s portrayal of Elizabeth Halsey was adequate, Chris is dead on in noting that the lack of character depth and her complete unlikability made it difficult to root for this character.  It was obvious while watching this film that the scriptwriters ( Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg) were trying to break some conventions when writing; however, these rules are in place for a reason and while the attempt is noble, the result was unfulfilling.

It’s clear from previous roles that Justin Timberlake has a talent for acting.  However, aside from sketch comedy, he hasn’t really proven his comedic abilities.  Whether it be the roles he is cast in, or something else holding him back, he is no different in Bad Teacher.  On the other hand, Jason Segel’s stock will continue to rise as he (once again) steals nearly every scene he is in.  In fact, the only flaw I saw in Segel’s performance was the forced chemistry between his character and Diaz’s, but I’ll chalk that up to poor scriptwriting.

Segel's extensive work with inanimate objects prepared him well for working with Diaz

Overall, I’ll say that Bad Teacher was a disappointment, simply because it seemed to have a lot more potential than it displayed.  Jake Kasden has created some successful comedies in the past with Orange County and the hilarious Walk Hard.  Like the last film we reviewed, Green Lantern, I think Bad Teacher could have benefited from a longer run-time to further develop the characters.  Bad Teacher was a disappointment but it certainly was not a failure, though I’d suggest it as a rental and not something that needs to be seen in theaters.

OVERALL: C

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