Sony // 2011 // 97 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 18th, 2011
"I tell you what I know. A kid who wears the same gymnastics sweatshirt three days a week isn't getting laid until he's 29. That's what I know."
Producers looking to make a transgressive comedy need to ask themselves the question of whether they're willing to go all the way, box office receipts be damned, or whether they will stop short at the behest of studios and market testing results. If they answer the second way, they need to stop immediately and make a different movie. Lacking a mind toward cutting the brake lines and letting the story go where it goes without restraint or regard to ticket sales, they are more likely to produce a milquetoast comedy with trappings of swearing and sex. I don't know what the honest intentions of the producers behind Bad Teacher were, but I suspect profit over content. It bears out in the final product, which isn't really a bad film at all, but anything you've heard about shocking content or any such talk is total hogwash.
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz, Vanilla Sky) is a middle school English teacher who has her whole life planned out: she's going to quit her job, get married to her rich boyfriend, and get taken care of for the rest of her life. When she gets home after the last day of school, though, she finds her boyfriend "needing to talk," and now without a meal ticket to make her dreams come true, she returns to school with a renewed determination...to save money for breast implants to find a new rich guy. She sees potential in Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake, Black Snake Moan), an independently wealthy do-gooder who only teaches because it makes him feel good, but must fend off the ire of a competing teacher (Lucy Punch, Dinner for Schmucks) and the romantic advances of a schlubby gym teacher (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The worst part, though, is that she has to teach all these stupid kids.
There was plenty that I liked about Bad Teacher, but just enough to make me see its unrealized potential. It has a solid concept at its core; a boozing, foul-mouthed, pot smoking hussy teaching your middle schoolers makes plenty of sense to me as the premise for a raunchy comedy, and Cameron Diaz in the role seems reasonable; she's displayed some comic chops in the past. Add in Justin Timberlake as the nebbish love interest and Jason Segel as the schlub and this seems like something I might actually like. There's a good supporting cast that includes Lucy Punch, Phyllis Smith (The Office), and John Michael Higgins (Best in Show), all of which makes me think that I might actually like this thing. Then, as it plays out, I start to think otherwise.
I laughed a few times, and a couple of bits are quite funny, but those moments neither match the potential of the concept nor the talent of the cast. The supporting cast does pretty well for what they are given, and Diaz is game in the lead, but the way her titular bad teacher is written is the real problem. The character of Elizabeth Halsey draws inevitable comparisons to Billy Bob Thornton's character in Bad Santa, and she doesn't measure up. Part of it is in Thornton's hard commitment to scuzziness, while Diaz seems content to look good and pretend. She has her moments, but unlike Thornton, she cared about how she looked and that's a killer for a character like this.
It's not like it's that great of a character, anyway. Elizabeth is an unrepentant jerk, scheming and mean-spirited in every way, and if the filmmakers stuck with their guns, I'm fine with that. But, because this is a big budget movie with large, marketable stars, I guess that was too much to ask. I shouldn't expect much from the writing team of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who scripted the utterly repulsive Year One, but I hoped that director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard) could make something out of it. In ways, he does overcome the writing, and the strength of the supporting cast reflects that. They are where the comedy lies, but the main character is totally botched. A hot, foul-mouthed woman is one of my favorite things, so it's even more disappointing that Elizabeth is all show and no action. Even if she delivers her lines with all she's got (and she doesn't), the need of the writers to redeem her, without reason or cause, make her a completely toothless presence.
Sony's DVD of Bad Teacher is pretty good for a standard definition release. The image isn't perfect, with the occasional of noticeable buzz around edges, but the coloring and detail are excellent throughout. The sound is a little more solid, with a solid mix that works all channels to a degree and good, clear dialog. For extras, we have about twenty minutes of deleted scenes, with some good and some bad, but nothing necessary to the film. A short featurette about the car wash scene is really lame, while a bit featuring Segel and Timberlake ostensibly talking about the production is pretty funny. Finally a series of outtakes reminds me of why I hate outtakes. It's a technically sound disc that's short on substantive features.
In the end, I wind up with pretty mixed feelings about Bad Teacher. The performances are certainly above average, much better than I expected them to be, but the run-of-the-mill redemption story is as weary as any on the block. There's nothing particularly shocking about the film; it's nothing that hasn't been seen before, but if you're up for a decent time with a mildly raunchy comedy, Bad Teacher is worth a rent.
It delivers enough to pass...just barely.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site