“Bad Teacher”: Trying Too Hard Gets You Nowhere in Life by Matilda Dixon-Smith

Posted on July 26, 2011


It kind of sucks for Bad Teacher that Bridesmaids preceded its release by only a couple of weekends. Not only did Bridesmaids totally steal Bad Teacher’s “Y’all, women ain’t just crying baby-machines!!” controvers-iosity, the former also commands a far greater understanding and execution of comedy. Had Bad Teacher been released before Bridesmaids, I probably would’ve found it a tonne more enjoyable. As it is, the film is not BAD (LOL, needed to happen), only moderately entertaining.

Ah, taglines, the bane of my existence.

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) is a middle-school English teacher who never should’ve received a qualification (in fact, how DID she get her teachi…? Nope, no point in delving into that Plot Hole Pandora’s Box). She’s a terminally-indifferent, inappropriately-dressed, boozy/toking hot mess whose sole interest is in finding a cashed-up gent who’ll marry her. At the beginning of the film, she thinks she’s found that dude, and quits her job at John Adams Middle School (nicknamed “JAMS”—one of the only good running jokes). She speeds off home in her red sports car, only to be dumped by aforementioned Cashed-Up Gent and properly kicked to the kerb. Three Months Later: Elizabeth finds herself back at JAMS for another hangover-haze year, allowing her students to watch movies while she sneaks swigs from mini bottles of Jack. ENTER JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: a totally boring (but rich) substitute teacher, or, Cashed-Up Gent #2. Elizabeth decides that she wants to nab Cashed-Up Justin, and that buying herself a pair of big ol’ fake titties will help her achieve this.

Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz: must be totes awkward that they used to date…

Then the movie (kind of) finds its coherent-plotline-feet. Upon discovering a $5,000 bonus is awarded to the teacher with the highest-testing class, Elizabeth promptly changes from Bad to Good Teacher. Well, if Good Teacher qualifies as pegging balls at students’ heads during a quiz. This is much to the chagrin of Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), an over-achieving Social Studies teacher who fancies herself queen of the staffroom. Amy and Elizabeth compete for the bonus, and for Cashed-Up Justin’s affections. In the midst of all this, poor-slob Gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) pursues Elizabeth, despite being constantly rebuked.

Diaz nailing kids with dodgeballs.

If this sounds slightly confusing to you, it’s because Bad Teacher’s plot is ridiculous. In fact, it’s more like a thinly-veiled collection of connecting comedy skits.

The film does have a strong comedic cast. John Michael Higgins supports well as dolphin fanatic principal Snur, as does Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), Elizabeth’s oddball roommate. Justin Timberlake, who has surprised everyone in the world ever by not being a terrible actor, is delightfully self-effacing. In particular, his rendition of a dreadful acoustic number, “Sympatico”, is fantastic. This further proves that J.T. is literally the most awesome person alive. That said, he does kind of wuss-out by seeming uncomfortable in the presence of breezier comedians (Punch, Diaz and Segel). Lucy Punch attacks ‘Amy Squirrel’ with enthusiasm. Her rendition of the character is more humour than pain-in-the-ass, which is a great achievement (though she does border on over-the-top in a couple of scenes).

Diaz and Lucy Punch: ballsy chicks.

Cameron Diaz has certainly found her calling, as a ballsy black-comedienne. She portrays Elizabeth, who is awful, with no apologies. Too bad for Diaz that the writers gave her little to work with and, at the film’s end, she seems bursting for a little more depth. We are not expected to like Elizabeth, which I guess accounts for the distinct lack of character development. Still, Diaz is a vivacious sociopath.

Where Timberlake, Punch and Diaz grate occasionally, Jason Segel is the film’s saving grace. Segel is well-known for being the big, affable, dull ‘nice’ guy (Freaks and GeeksHow I Met Your Mother). Clearly this is why he was cast as Russell. Instead, what he brings to the film is intelligence and bite. Russell is observant, resolutely optimistic and possesses a sharp wit. Segel lifts every scene, and his determination to engage with the easier side of Elizabeth’s personality gives her a sorely-needed edge of humanity. The jokes involving Segel are also easily the funniest in the whole film.

It’s a shame that these actors are so let down by Bad Teacher’s script. Everything has a rather try-hard feel. Only some jokes hit the mark with the desired effect, and most of these were previewed in the trailer so the humour has dampened. The rest (the rather boring but intentionally hysterical ‘dry-humping’ scene for example) are instances of screenwriters thinking they’re funnier than they are. This I do not get, since Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg write for The Office (U.S.).

The writers also make the bold choice not to have their ‘heroine’ ultimately redeem herself. This, I believe, is a mistake. I can’t stop myself from relating it back to Bridesmaids. Annie Walker (from Bridesmaids) does some really dumb stuff, but in the end she stands up for herself and is offered redemption. Elizabeth behaves like a sociopath, but we don’t see her learn anything (besides one humorous heartfelt moment on the Springfield trip). As such, one is reluctant to root for her to win. Also, the film is appallingly edited and sloppily directed. Its tenuous links and few visually-engaging moments are mostly held together by Diaz’s comedic nonchalance and Segel’s bemused grins.

L-R: Segel, Diaz and The Office’s Phyllis Smith

Black comedy is tough to pull off. The way to do it is to have some nugget of truth beneath the madness. This is Bad Teacher’s problem—it is desperatefor a good truth-nugget. The film is, in certain lights, amusing and entertaining (and worth seeing for Diaz’s best performance yet). Just don’t expect to be wowed by intelligence or sophistication, because it’s spread pretty thin in this one.

Bad Teacher is currently showing everywhere. Go with friends and low expectations, it’s probably much funnier that way. Also, perhaps don’t watch the trailer posted below if you wish to get the most out of the best gags. 


What did you think of Bad Teacher? Did y’all love it, or was it the worst thing you’ve seen in the universe evah? Are you sick of hearing how much Matilda loved Bridesmaids? Let the comments decide (!):

Matilda Dixon-Smith is You’re Dripping Egg’s Editor-in-chief and co-creator. You can also read Matilda’s review of another femme-comedy: “But I’m So Confused. Women aren’t funny, right?” or “Bridesmaids”.

Posted in: Movies