Bad Teacher oh so wants to be considered shocking. Just look at Cameron Diaz on the poster, looking stoned and/or hung over, her gorgeous gams so rebelliously propped up on her desk. “She doesn’t give an F,” says the tagline. Oh, so it’s Bad Santa, but, like, with a teacher!
Bad Teacher does admittedly have its share of “shocking” moments. But unlike in the Billy Bob Thornton Holiday Special, they seem oddly out of place. It almost feels like Bad Teacher was supposed to be a cute romantic comedy with a handful of subversive elements but someone decided at the last minute to “raunch it up” with drugs, swear words, dry-humping sessions, slow-motion car washes and slamming dodgeballs into kids’ faces — and, in adding those elements, some other ones more crucial to coherent characterizations and basic storytelling were dropped. The result is a fitfully amusing but almost bizarrely fractured collage rather than a coherent film — it’s as if screenwriters were asked to revise their essay but were only given ten minutes to do it.
Which is a shame, because the premise certainly had comedy classic potential. Elizabeth (Diaz) is, perhaps, the worst teacher on the planet, content to just show videos to her students whilst she drinks and does drugs, counting the days until her marriage to some rich dude will take her out of her day job hell. Not surprisingly, she gets dumped, and soon thereafter focuses her attentions and affections on the cute substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake) who’s also the heir to a wristwatch mogul’s fortune. Apparently, the key to winning him is to get a boob job, which prompts her to conjure a series of elaborate ways to raise the money for the surgery, all the while dodging the advances of the gym teacher (Jason Segel) and deflecting the judgment of her outraged colleague (Lucy Punch).
Oddly enough, there is no major kid character in this thing — no precocious minion that Diaz enlists to help her with her various schemes, no bully who gets his comeuppance, no taunted nerd who exacts some sort of revenge. There are throwaway gags and references involving some of the students, though for a film that takes place mostly at a school, the kids are strangely reduced to being little more than glorified background players. Is it because the writers thought their adult characters were childish enough themselves… or is it a sign of them not finishing their homework?
That’s the main problem with Bad Teacher — it doesn’t earn so much a letter grade as it does an “Incomplete.” There may be specific circumstances that led to the script being so fractured, but more than likely it might simply be because Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky have been working on The Office for too long — the screenplay for Bad Teacher is, indeed, little more than a series of slapdash sketches and random situations. Oh, many of these sketches and random situations are indeed very, very funny, though as a whole the script is missing some pretty essential elements like, I dunno, character motivation (why is Elizabeth such a bad, bad girl?) and reasonable exposition (how in the hell did she get a teaching job in the first place?). And, without the sense of desperation and urgency that fueled Bad Santa, it really has absolutely nowhere to go — it’s like one of those SNL sketches that should’ve been 60 seconds but inexplicably ended up being a deadly six minutes.
Luckily, the film is able to earn a lot of extra credit thanks to its gorgeous leading lady. Cameron Diaz is hot and funny — extremely, in fact, on both counts. She pretty much has always been a gifted comedian (remember There’s Something About Mary?) and her comic timing just keeps getting sharper with age. She’s obviously relishing the opportunity to play such a despicable woman, despite the fact that she’s never called upon to be anything more than a cartoonish caricature — Diaz deserves more, sure, but she sure can do wonders with what she’s given.
Unfortunately, the Bad Teacher herself isn’t enough to earn her movie a gold star. Save your lunch money and skip this class until it’s on Netflix, where you can relish its handful of comedy treasures with the help of the rewind button and fold laundry (or grade papers) during the rest of it.