Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: "Bad Teacher"

Cameron Diaz is more widely recognized as a celebrity (and for her relationships) than her acting roles. A staple of the red carpet during Oscar season, she has only had two great roles: Mary in There's Something About Mary (1998) and Lotte in Being John Malkovich (1999). Had it not been for Shrek and its three sequels we may have forgotten about her. Like last year's Knight and Day, Cameron Diaz's summer fare for 2011 was heavily promoted. Bad Teacher features two supporting actors who are high in demand these days, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake. The trailer suggested that the film had a lot of promise, but unfortunately the screenplay focuses too heavily on the bad in its title and leaves the characters underdeveloped. It is easy to cheer for Diaz's character but her sudden change of heart at the end of the film is hard to stomach. Unfortunately the film fails terribly in the casting of Justin Timberlake. He just does not cut it as a prospective love interest. There is no depth of character, which is the fault of the screenwriters (Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky), the director (Jake Kasdan) and the actor. I also feel the film focused far too heavily on the cat and mouse competition between Diaz and Lucy Punch, whose character is rooted too deep in stereotype. As a teacher, I can relate to a lot of elements in the film. I would love to be able to act like Cameron Diaz and treat students terribly, but in my world (and a world where parents would actually show up to a parent-teacher night) she would never have kept her job! Cameron Diaz tries her hardest and Jason Segel is convincingly charming, but Bad Teacher, while often quite funny, gets muddled in a poor screenplay that fails its characters and the audience.

The story begins at the end of the school year, Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) is leaving her position at a middle school to get married and live a life of luxury. She did not care much for her job and never socialized with her colleagues. Unfortunately, the marriage is over before it begins and Elizabeth is forced to return to her job, but she has her mind set on breast implants to attract a wealthy man. Tasked with grade 7 English, she spends most of the time showing movies and sleeping off her hangover. Across the hall is Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), the grade 7 Social Studies teacher, who is far too obsessed with her job and would alienate all coworkers in the real world. Amy thinks Elizabeth is a terrible teacher skating by without getting caught and tries to get details out of Elizabeth's students. At school, Elizabeth is pursued by Russell (Segel), the gym teacher, but she has her eye on Scott (Timberlake), a substitute teacher. Amy and Elizabeth become competitors once again for Scott's attention. Even the principal, Wally (John Michael Higgins), is unwilling to get involved when Amy makes accusations about Elizabeth's teaching. When Elizabeth learns that the teacher with the highest score on the statewide test gets a $5000 bonus, she changes her tactics and sets out to earn her implants. It is clear that Elizabeth will stop at nothing to raise enough funds for her surgery and is perfectly willing to skirt the law professionally.

As always, it is difficult to watch about your profession. There are so many issues in the school that Elizabeth's teaching style is not always the most glaring problem. Is it really acceptable for two teachers, while chaperoning the school dance, to sneak off and go get high a few metres away? I was surprised that I found Cameron Diaz to be so charming. She plays a character with so few redeemable qualities, but there is still a quality in her performance that draws the audience in. Unfortunately, Bad Teacher is content to just be a film about a bad teacher. The characters are one-dimensional, the scenes are played for laughs without any regard for credibility, and when the film's conclusion nears the main character has a spontaneous change of heart. This is the premise for an increasingly problematic number of films. It has been successful many times and it has fallen flat on even more occasions, and Bad Teacher falls somewhere in the middle. It has the tools to be a story about an adult learning a life lesson, but those involved seem too lazy. Cameron Diaz, to her credit, is the only part of the whole film that works. She has talent, but she really needs to start choosing some better roles and some established directors. Bad Teacher has far too few elements that work and they are overshadowed by its many problems. It is funny and has some dirty humour, but it is otherwise forgettable.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

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