Bad Teacher

bad-teacher-2

D+

Bad Teacher tries very hard to be a cutting edge, anti-hero story using the socially relevant backdrop of the public school system. Jake Kasdan’s film steps back from controversial the usual education-related politics to have a laugh and occasional cringe. By the end of the film, however, it wraps the whole thing up nice and cutesy, skimping on any cutting edge it seemingly sought out.

Positively, Cameron Diaz gives a performance that reminds us that she can be a pretty good comedic lead. Her character is certainly one-note, but she delivers a fearless performance as Elizabeth Halsey. While her character may be offensive to both teachers and women, there is a magnetic quality to her performance. Jason Segel and Lucy Punch also give life to the film as two of her co-workers. Segel is probably the only genuinely likeable character in a movie filled with a bunch of jerks, and while Punch may be the “villain” of the film, she reminds us of one or two of the crazy high school teachers we’ve had.

The biggest loser of the film, though, is Justin Timberlake. His character also mirrors a lot of the film’s bigger problems, as I could never quite tell who he was, and he felt as far from a real person as Justin Timberlake is from a regular schlub. It really is incredible how such a charismatic actor can be so terribly bland. He’s supposedly a rich heir, who for some reason has become a substitute teacher. JT plays him as the ultimate nice guy, but with very strange personal politics. He also has no problem chatting about Elizabeth’s future cosmetic surgery when he otherwise seems like a total rube that would personally be chaffed by her brash style. If you were confused as to why you haven’t seen much of him in a lot of the television spots, it’s because he has nothing close to interesting to say.

There are a few chuckles in the film (most seen in the trailer), but it’s way too inconsistent to be funny throughout. Most egregiously, it doesn’t treat its characters like they’re real people. The best comedies are able to be funny while allowing the audience to understand their actions — even broad comedies like The Hangover allow us to understand its characters’ points-of-view. Bad Teacher lets bad people get off scott-free while people with actual integrity are punished. Are we supposed to believe that Elizabeth learned any sort of lesson? We have watched her behave like an awful person for nearly the film’s entire run-time? A better film would have made us root for her debauchery — or at least feel guilty for wanting her to succeed.

I don’t think anyone should feel personally offended by Bad Teacher. I say that not because the film’s humor isn’t cringe worthy from time to time, but because the film feels so minor and hurried that its insults can’t be taken seriously.

tags: bad teacher, cameron diaz, jason segal, justin timberlake

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