Bad Teacher is a solid summer diversion; no more, no less. It will inevitably be compared to 2003’s Bad Santa, a superior and significantly edgier film that really went for awkwardness and black comedy. Bad Teacher has attitude, but it never feels like it wants to be truly “wrong.” This leads to some disjointed scenes, but it’s consistently funny enough to work. It’s about high time Cameron Diaz got a starring role where it looks like she’s actually having fun, and this is it.
Diaz is Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digging middle school teacher whose sugar daddy has just filed for divorce. Now on her own, she takes out her frustration on co-workers and slacks through every school day by showing the kids movies and never assigning homework. When Scott (Timberlake), whose family owns a wristwatch company, enters the picture, she’ll do anything to have him. Her main goal: to get breast implants. But fellow teacher, miss perfect Amy (Punch), is also trying to win his affection.
The screenplay, by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, is basically one situational comedy scene after another. Any sort of mean streak never lasts long, as Elizabeth soon finds herself supporting one of the more awkward students in her class and her mood changes purely based on who she’s around. Fortunately, the bulk of the scenes contain rapid-fire gags that hit far more than miss. Even the token bathroom humor is a cut above.
Going back to There’s Something About Mary, it’s been apparent that Cameron Diaz has some comedic chops. Director Jake Kasdan lets her roll with the material here, and she’s clearly having a blast with it. For what it’s worth, she’s believable. The supporting cast is very good, headlined by Lucy Punch as the ultimate prissy teacher personified. Appropriately over-the-top, she steals scenes as her attempts to frame Elizabeth backfire. Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake make for good foils as they attempt to adapt to Elizabeth’s rigid personality.
Bad Teacher never tries to be anything more than disposable summer entertainment. It provides a compact runtime (oh, how I’ve missed you, 90-minute movie) and a quality laughs/minute ratio. Sure, it could have been darker and edgier, but it never aims to truly offend. You may gasp a few times, but it hardly comes off as straight-faced in its mean-spiritedness. Whether or not that’s okay with you will likely make or break the experience. Comedies have been down as a whole lately, but this one delivers enough laughs to warrant a look on a hot summer day.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 92 Minutes
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
Theatrical Release: June 24, 2011
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg.
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Phyllis Smith