Black comedies are tricky, because you are usually following a main character who is a terrible human being. But when they work they become classics – like the more recent Bad Santa. That film seems a direct inspiration for Bad Teacher, which stars Cameron Diaz as a teacher who’s happy to show her students movies every class until she learns she can get money for having them do well on a test. Though not as scathing as Bad Santa, Teacher is an amusing lark, with solid performances by the cast who keep the film moving. Find out more below…

The Players

The Story

After being dumped by her rich boyfriend, Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) is stuck back teaching kids. She decides the best way to get ahead is to get breast implants, and tries to court substitute teacher and rich kid Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), even though Gym teacher Russell Gettis (Segel) is not very subtle about wanting to hook up. Elizabeth often sleeps her way through classes, which annoys her rival Amy Squirrel (Punch), but even more annoying is when Elizabeth finds out that she can win money for having high test scores. And since Amy starts dating Scott, their rivalry must come to a head.

The Good

  • Comic Ringers: Though Diaz is front and center (and great), the film is peppered with great comic performers. From The Office’s Phillis Smith, John Michael Higgins and David “Gruber” Allen as fellow teachers, to Thomas Lennon as a testmaker – everyone is funny, and everyone who shows up kills when necessary.
  • No Real Moral: Though the ending is a positive change for the character of Elizabeth, with black comedies you don’t want your main character (who Bugs Bunny would refer to as a “stinkah”) suddenly figure out that they’re a asshole, and try to atone. It’s fun to watch people behave badly, the film knows it, and so there may be compromise, there thankfully isn’t an about-face.
  • Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake: Segel is a reliable comic foil, and his stoner gym teacher has the right attitude about Diaz’s character. And though Timberlake has proved he’s got chops before, there is something sort of “pink poodle”-y about watching him do a film like this. Yeah, he’s done his time on SNL, but it’s fun to watch him play a buttoned up loser who’s also a terrible musician.
  • Cameron Diaz and Lucy Punch: Cameron Diaz as an actress knows her limitations (or should after Gangs of New York), but here she gets to be a real bitch, and it’s fun for that – you’re with her. And though Lucy Punch’s chipperness will make her a “love her or hate her” character, it’s great that you can root against the person who is – it turns out – the most right about Elizabeth.

The Bad

  • Modesty: Though the school year gives the film some structure, it’s a lackadaisical film that mostly sets up things and then pays them off, but not with such a great wit that the film builds into something. If Bad Santa was the role model, that film goes deeper and darker, and builds to a great third act. And though the film goes to some less than savory places (the film features cinema’s greatest dry-humping scene), the film never feels transgressive. Where Bad Santa also functions as a critique on consumer culture, Bad Teacher never expresses much contempt for teachers or public education, etc.  Here, it’s a pleasant enough ride, but it feels like something that will be more enjoyable in the comfort of one’s home. The film could easily be turned into a TV show.
  • The Shooting Schedule: Bad Teacher is what amounts to a studio low budget film and star Segel has talked about how he shot for eight days. Watching the film you can sense that – other than Diaz – most everyone was on set only for when they were needed, and so often it feels like Diaz is playing to one person, even if there are more than one people in the scene.

Overall

Though the film doesn’t sizzle or reinvent the wheel, it’s still consistently funny. That’s really all a comedy needs to be, and this works, though it feels like there’s a slightly better movie in the material. But director Jake Kasdan knows how to make watchable films, and much like his Walk Hard (which is often more conceptually funny than something that makes you laugh out loud), the replay factor on this one looks high.

Rating: 7.5/10

Bad Teacher hits theaters June 24!

Trailer:

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