For some reason the summer of 2011 hasn’t been kind to comedies. Sure there was the surprise hit Bridesmaids, but that was all the way back in May, before the onslaught of summer had really started. Since then we’ve had lackluster sequels like The Hangover Part 2 and little else. I was beyond excited for director Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher as it seemed to be a nice take on Bad Santa, but in a school setting. Having seen the finished product though it seems to have suffered from a little Hollywood tampering with far too many clichés in a need to make an unlikable character seem “good-hearted.” When it’s all over you just feel like the movie felt it couldn’t be too bad.
The story takes place at James A. Madison Elementary where the teachers all seem to be friends, except for English teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz). Elizabeth is all set to be married to a rich man, until he dumps her when he realizes she’s a money-grubber. Elizabeth is forced to return to a job she hates and decides to save up for a boob job in order to find a new sugar daddy. She sets her sights on substitute teacher Scott Delacourt (Justin Timberlake), a man with money. Unfortunately, Scott has his heart set on Elizabeth’s arch rival Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). With both teachers fighting for Scott, as well as a lucrative bonus for the best state test scores, Elizabeth will lie, cheat, and steal to get what she wants.
Regardless of story or humor the film lives and dies by actress Cameron Diaz. There’s no denying that Diaz is in her element playing the deliciously evil Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the teacher everyone thinks is out there, the one who just leaves her class to learn through cliché movies like Stand and Deliver, and openly smoking pot. The majority of the comedy relies on Diaz’s vulgar mouth and uncomfortable moments with her class which unfortunately have all been revealed in the numerous trailers. Other than Diaz, Lucy Punch is the perfect foil as the goody-goody Amy Squirrel while Phyllis Smith is the scene stealer as the mild-mannered Lynn.
Sadly you wish that Punch and Smith had just as much screen-time as Diaz because their characters are revealed to have so much complexity that you never know about. For instance the characters keep referring to a traumatic event that Amy went through back in 2008. Numerous characters tell her “you don’t want to be overwhelmed like you were in 2008.” Well that’d be interesting if we knew what the hell happened. The film pulls a Hot Tub Time Machine by never revealing what the reference means, similar to how Hot Tub never tells what happened in Cincinnati. The same can be said about the character of Lynn, we never see her as a person just a shy person that hangs around Elizabeth, you can’t even call her a friend of Elizabeth’s because she’s cast aside. The classroom also suffers short shrift as we never learn about the students themselves. Elizabeth has a few cute moments with a few kids, like the overachiever and a kid in love with a girl who doesn’t love him back, but these are few and far between and never amount to anything. It seems that a lot of this movie was left on the cutting room floor and this is painfully obvious by watching the trailers and noticing that half the scenes in the trailers can’t be accounted for in the film itself.
It leads me to believe that Bad Teacher went through some type of last minute editing because the film takes a few big leaps into making Elizabeth a horrible person before tip-toeing back, afraid to let her be the bitch she truly is. As mentioned before, all the good jokes are spoiled in the trailers and what is in the trailer isn’t in the film. There is either a massive Director’s Cut coming out or the studio felt the audience wouldn’t like Elizabeth, which is a shame because she is likeable. This studio fear causes the movie to treat the audience like idiots, assuming that they’ll believe Elizabeth relishes in the pain of others for the first 90 minutes of the movie, before making her a saint in the last two minutes. Had Elizabeth owned up to whom she was, similar to how the character of Willy in Bad Santa never seeks redemption; it would have been just as entertaining and believable.
This yearning for acceptance results in the movie being overly long when it doesn’t need to be. The pacing is so awful that by the forty minute mark I was checking my watch. It’s the result of how front-loaded the movie is, with all the best moments and vulgarity happening in the beginning of the film. The rest of the movie is a hodge-podge of scenes involving her fight with Amy and her love triangle between Scott and the mild-mannered gym teacher Russell (Jason Segal). The aforementioned relationship is also boring as hell because you never learn anything about these guys, other than you know which one Elizabeth should be with. In the case of Segal’s character you never root for him because of how little screen time he has, a lot of the film he has a few lines or just stands in the background trying to be “normal.” Timberlake is severely toned down and dull as a board.
Bad Teacher will elicit a few chuckles, but having seen it about a few hours ago I can’t remember any jokes or scenes that weren’t already in the trailers. There has to be a lengthy Director’s Cut out there somewhere so I’d say wait for that, or watch the far funnier Bad Santa and you’ll see what this movie should have been. Diaz is funny and the side characters have their moments, but it’s not enough to warrant taking time out of your day to see it.
Final Grade: C-
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.