In this day and age of quality R-rated comedies like THE HANGOVER, BRIDESMAIDS, SUPERBAD and countless others, it’s unacceptable for an R-rated comedy to think it can get by with foul language, inappropriate drug use and crass sex jokes without wrapping them around characters we care about and a plot we’re interested in. It’s no longer shocking to see a woman use excessive profanity or to see characters use illegal drugs or to hear adults trash talk young kids. We’ve seen all of that before and if that’s the only thing the movie has going for it, then the movie shouldn’t have been made. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson director Jake Kasdan and the rest of the filmmakers behind BAD TEACHER didn’t learn in time.
Even though audiences haven’t reacted well to her in a starring role since 1998’s THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, Cameron Diaz still manages to get lead roles in films. In BAD TEACHER, she plays Elizabeth Halsey, a full time teacher that spends all of her time trying to find a new sugar daddy after her old one dumps her for being a soulless, money hungry gold-digger . That’s important to remember as Elizabeth doesn’t abandon those traits until the last five minutes or so. And a good argument can be made that she never really sheds those traits, but the writers felt like they had to end it somehow. We follow Elizabeth as she goes about trying to seduce the new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte, played with moderate laughs by Justin Timberlake. But she’s constantly derailed in her efforts by the goody-goody Amy Squirrel. Lucy Punch plays Ms. Squirrel to such an annoying level that it was tough to get through any scene with her in it. All the while, the guy that’s perfect for Elizabeth is Russell (Jason Segel), the school’s gym teacher who gets ignored by her because he doesn’t have enough money.
As alluded to earlier, the film relies heavily on crass, foul language in hopes it will shock the audience enough and trick them into thinking they just heard something funny. Crass language and profanity can be hilarious when used appropriately, but saying it for shock value doesn’t generate laughs. In the case of BAD TEACHER, it just made for uncomfortable moments and not in that “I can’t believe they said that” kind of way, but in that “I feel bad these actors are doing/saying this” kind of way. The few funny moments there were didn’t involve profanity or inappropriate actions at all, which led me to believe that writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg were as uncomfortable writing the vulgarities as the actors were saying them.
The plot offers nothing new, other than possibly breaking the record for most opportunities lost. Even with Ms. Squirrel, the characters alluded to something that happened in 2008 that sounded really funny, but we never learned what it was. I kept hoping we’d get an outrageous flashback, but no, nothing. There were some funny moments between Elizabeth and her students, but nothing ever got developed enough to give us a belly laugh. It’s hard to narrow it down, but maybe the most frustrating aspect of the film was the ending where they tried to wrap everything up and have Elizabeth live happily ever after. I’m okay with Hollywood endings, but you can’t spend 80 minutes developing a character as a heartless gold-digger and then have her change instantly. It’s called “character arc” because the characters are supposed to grow and develop over the course of the movie, not in the last few minutes.
There were some humorous moments, almost entirely consisting of scenes with Jason Segel playing Jason Segel, but they weren’t nearly enough to make up for the poorly developed characters and pedestrian plot. Audiences have demanded, and deserve, more from their R-rated comedies and BAD TEACHER just doesn’t deliver.