“Bad Teacher” is pretty good. In fact it is funny. The story by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg could have been more idiosyncratic, and less tangential. What they created has a certain style and flow. Amazingly, along with Director Jake Kasdan they ultimately make Cameron Diaz’s totally unlikable Elizabeth humorously transform. No small feat. Cameron Diaz soars fearlessly as “The Bad Teacher” with graceful comedic timing. “Bad Teacher” surprisingly works, because she plays the character straight up, and her epiphany is deserved.
In “Bad Teacher” Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey at JAMS—a middle school in Chicago. Diaz looks vibrant and stunningly fit. Her Halsey is a vapid gold digger biding her time until she marries her rich fiancé. This unravels when her fiancé’s mother punctuates that Elizabeth only loves him for his money. Consequently, Elizabeth is forced to return to her job after summer break. As fate would have it, Scott Delecorte (brilliantly nerdy Justin Timberlake, also Diaz’s former flame) is the new substitute teacher. Scott is the heir to the Delecorte Family watch fortune. Elizabeth finds her rival in fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (dangerously perky Lucy Punch). Intense Amy is alarmingly upbeat, and seems to have suffered a previous meltdown. Scott’s apparent physical attraction to his former girlfriend, prompts Elizabeth to get surgical breast enhancement. There is a hysterical scene with Diaz trying out a patient’s boob job.
However, the procedure runs about $10,000—even with affordable financing. At the same time, Elizabeth squashes the charms of regular poor guy gym teacher Russell (laid back funny Jason Segal). How does one choose to become a gym teacher anyway? After an embarrassingly cheesy school car wash/ wet t-shirt contest gag with Diaz in cutoff shorts and soaking wet, she realizes the solution to her boob job fund. The teacher at JAMS with the highest average standardized test scores gets a $5700 bonus. So instead of showing videos in class, being either doped out or recovering from a hangover, Elizabeth becomes drill sergeant English teacher. There is a hysterical scene when she slams basketballs off student’s heads for incorrect answers. Or when she is totally frustrated by the inept practice test results, she screams that is why the Japanese students beat their asses—however, in less delicate euphemism. Then the story takes a weirder turn even for itself.
At the predictable arc during a field trip gone nearly awry, Elizabeth has a conversation with geeky Garrett (sweet hearted Matthew J. Evans), who springs nonlinear when he is rejected by the love of his life too cool for school Chase (good Kathryn Newton). Diaz tells him that Chase will never like him, because he is not cool. She was Chase once, and likely still is. Garrett points out that the kid Chase likes is stupid. Her Elizabeth admits, “He’s a moron.” Elizabeth tells Garrett that he is sensitive, and for now cool rules. His time will come in college. Diaz is brilliantly funny and insightful. Russell (Segal) wryly says, “That’s a nice thing you did for him.” There is cute punch line; however, Diaz and Segal level out the often crass context, with a reassuring yet unsentimental human touch. Even at our most self centric, we will protect those put upon.
The universe has a way of balancing out in “Bad Teacher”. “Bad Teacher” is not perfect. It is funny and worth your patience. Diaz, Punch, Segal, and Timberlake play together hilariously well. Cameron’s boldness really makes it work. “Bad Teacher” is really pretty good, all things considered.