Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupinsky
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Phyllis Smith, Molly Shannon, John Michael Higgins, Eric Stonestreet
Russell: …it might be too soon, but do you wanna grab a bite or something sometime?
Elizabeth: You still a gym teacher?
Russell: I am. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Then, no. I don’t date co-workers.
Russell: I won’t tell anyone.
Elizabeth: I also said no.
Russell: Okay, cool! Well, this has been awesome!
Elizabeth Halsey is a woman with a problem. The meal ticket for the rest of her life has just dumped her, unceremoniously, after she just quit her teaching job after one, unspectacular year. So, there she goes, once more into the breach called public education. Suffice to say, she will do nothing to close the gap. Along the way, she comes across a reason to carry on. Well, at least, a reason to make her boobs bigger. That reason, Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), is the new teacher in class. He is a Charlie Church, a substitute teacher, and completely wealthy.
In the periphery we have Amy Squirrel (Punch) an overly ambitious cook who is bit too into the learning experience, and clearly made for Scott. In Elizabeth’s corner, unbeknownst to her inflated ego, is Russell Gettis, an unambitious P.E. teacher. I would spell it out completely, but I really don’t think that Russell would, so, oh well.
This movie, like few others I have seen, goes out of its way to offend. Among the things witness our protagonist embezzling, taking copious amounts of drugs, giving people contagious diseases, stealing tests answers and generally ignoring the kids in her class. And that’s the more normal behavior witnessed. Being offensive is easy. Being funny isn’t so easy.
Bad Teacher does it’s best to avoid “Learning Moments” and, in fact, rips the sensitivity right off the moment like the bra off a bad teacher. The characters are pleasantly disguised as one-dimensional, but colored in such a way as to present other dimensional aspects incidentally. It is one of the smartest comic scripts I have seen since Shaun of the Dead.
The writers, Gene Stupinsky and Lee Eisenberg, have a wealth of experience with The Office. It’s easy to see why the show has been such a success over the years at seeming fresh. The plot is nothing new, but the presentation is completely brave and original.
As for performances, Diaz has never been better. The ferociousness with which she attacks the material must be seen to be believed. She absolutely owns this movie. The dialogue escapes from her lips as if she came up with it on the spot while contemplating her next move. The performance shows that her work on Knight and Day was not a fluke. If she keeps picking material like this, she will become a permanent top draw for years.
Jason Segel is pretty effective playing a relaxed version of himself. Surprising thatthis did not result in his becoming a speed bump. His journey through the school seems a bit casual, but closer to the mark than that of Scott or Amy.
As the movie’s resident over achievers, Timberlake and Punch create unique enough characters that they cannot be dismissed with a single scene. So well drawn are their characters that while doing everything required from an antagonist, but in that hippy dippy way that many teachers were at my school. Characters drawn with any less care, all might have been lost.
Kasdan deserves much credit here. This is easily his best movie. Nothing else even comes close. Everyone is loose here, and grabbing the material with their spare hand. What is in that other hand is for you to see. And see it you should.
One note of caution, if you haven’t figured it out by now, kids shouldn’t see this film. Really. Not even if you think your kid is cool. Give them a chance to see all of the good teachers first, or form a basis for enjoying this movie’s bad ones.
(****1/2 out of *****)