Bad Teacher is about a woman whose badness far exceeds her teaching. She’s rude, dishonest, manipulative, superficial, unsympathetic, and cruel. The movie should have been called Bad Person. Her name is Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a Chicago gold digger. The film begins with her leaving her junior high teaching position after only one year; she chose the job because of the easy opportunities to do the bare minimum, but her real dream is to live on easy street as the wife of a rich man. Not long after leaving, she’s dumped by her husband, who, miraculously, just discovered that she only married him for his money. With no place to live and no source of income, she’s forced to go back into teaching. When she’s not swearing, drinking, smoking pot, or hurting someone’s feelings, she saving up for a pair of breast implants.
What infuriates me is that director Jake Kasdan and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky want us to see her as a funny character. We’re supposed to laugh as she shows up in school with a hangover, or when she pummels her students with handballs when they give an incorrect answer, or when she destroys the life and career of a rival teacher, or when she seduces a man for the answer key to a state test, or when she makes fun of a male student for being sensitive and then telling him that he won’t blossom until college, and even then it’s iffy. I only recently learned of the Darwin Awards, which “honors” individuals who contribute to the evolution of humanity by being stupid and inadvertently killing themselves; there needs to be an additional category for people like Elizabeth Halsey, who may not be dumb but are so monumentally heartless and irredeemable that we’d be better off without them.
The taglines for this movie are all correct – she truly could not give an F. She’s selfish and mean. She spends almost the entire year not assigning her class any homework or giving out tests. Instead, she has them watch movies themed around inner city kids and tough teachers, such as Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and Lean on Me. How she gets away with this for so long is left a little obscure, although it’s suggested that she can weasel her way out of any situation by flaunting her feminine assets. Being played by Diaz, you can rest assured that she has them in spades. She earns money for her operation by any means necessary, including embezzling earnings from an annual car wash fundraiser (in which she dresses like a Playboy centerfold and gets herself soaking wet), getting paid extra by the students’ parents for doing nothing, and fixing the results of her students’ state tests, which allowed her to receive a bonus.
She sets her sights on the new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (emphasis on the “corte”), a young man so trusting and clueless that you just want to beat him senseless. Not only is he incredibly handsome, he’s also from a long line of watchmakers and is heir to his family’s fortune. He’s played by Justin Timberlake, and perhaps there is something amusing about the fact he and Diaz were at one time a real-life couple. Do you think this made it awkward for them to star in a scene in which he dry-humps her and ejaculates in his jeans? I digress. Standing in Elizabeth’s way is fellow teacher Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), who may be annoyingly wholesome on the outside but within is a seething basket case. And yet, every suspicion she has about Elizabeth is correct, and her hatred is justified. No one will listen to her, of course.
Somehow, the filmmakers work in something resembling a romance between Elizabeth and Russell, the school gym teacher (Jason Segel). She initially can’t stand the sight of him, although he’s clearly more her type than Scott is. That anyone could be her type is nothing short of miraculous. What is it about her he finds so attractive, and I mean besides her looks? The film never bothers to delve deeply into this, which is just as well; anyone who believes they belong with a person this vile is undeserving of analysis. It’s precisely because of these characters that we’re made to endure an ending that’s not only astounding implausible and thematically inconsistent with the rest of the film, but is also in very poor taste.
Oh, how I hated this woman. How I hated the belief that she could make the movie funny. How I hated the belief that anything about the movie was funny. If you see it with a boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, or casual acquaintance, and you notice them laughing, you might want to rethink your decision to be in their lives. If you’re reading this right now and you laughed all throughout, I feel very sorry for you. We don’t need movies like Bad Teacher in our lives. They’re like saturated fats and processed sugars and refined carbohydrates; they may make what you’re eating taste good, but they’re slowly poisoning you into an early grave. The sooner we realize this, the better off we’ll be. This horrendous excuse of a movie deserves an F. Not one of those discrete F’s put on page corner, but a giant, underlined, circled, red F that sprawls across the entire piece of paper.
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