daniel cohen reviews the new Cameron Diaz comedy …
Plot: Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a burn-out and often hung over Middle School teacher who’s only interested in finding a rich husband. When she meets the new substitute Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who’s heir to a vast fortune, Elizabeth does everything she can to impress him. Standing in her way is the perky over achieving Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) who tries to find any dirt she can on Elizabeth.
It’s refreshing to see a comedy where the humor stems from the actual characters and doesn’t just lazily hit us with over the top sex and poop gags. Now some of that is certainly present in Bad Teacher, but it’s not forced. It’s organic to the way these characters would behave and react, and certainly cleverer then in most recent comedies. While Bad Teacher isn’t a laugh riot, it provides consistent chuckles and a solid script. But the reason this movie succeeds is because of Cameron Diaz, who easily gives her best comedic performance since probably There’s Something About Mary.
The script and her performance work very well together. This shouldn’t be a likable human being. In fact, a lot of the things she does as a teacher would most certainly get her fired within a month. But Diaz is so charismatic, you can’t help but like her even though she does some morally questionable things. The strength of her character and the reason you ultimately root for her is because she is a brutally honest person, except when she is with Justin Timberlake’s character. She also has a good friendship with one of the more reserved teachers, Lynn, played by Phyllis Smith (The Office). This is an important relationship, because it’s another reason why the audience sides with Elizabeth.
It also helps that Elizabeth’s antagonist is the unbearable and border line crazy rival teacher Amy. This character works well, but Lucy Punch plays her with a little too much…punch. Sorry about that, but the over the top performance can be a little overbearing sometimes. Whenever Diaz is not on screen, the film drags, but there’s barely a moment where she isn’t present.
The other two noteworthy performances are Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal. Timberlake plays this very awkward and sappy teacher. He’s not necessarily an asshole, but the film makes it very clear you aren’t supposed to like him. There’s a moment where he plays an original song on his guitar that’s pretty hysterical and I hope will be on iTunes at some point. Segal plays the gym teacher Russell who’s not shy about going after Elizabeth. He’s easily the most likable person in the movie. He’s probably given some of the better dialogue in the film and nails all of it. There’s also a solid, but small performance from Eric Stonestreet who we know best as Cameron from Modern Family.
Some of the scenes fall flat. One involves Elizabeth trying to seduce this state education employee (Thomas Lennon) that goes on for way too long. There’s a running joke where the principal (John Michael Higgins) of the school has this obsession with dolphins that is just not funny. And the first fifteen minutes are kind of weak. It takes a little while for the movie to pick up steam. The plot isn’t great as it literally revolves around Elizabeth trying to get money for a boob job. But the movie isn’t really about that. It’s about Elizabeth’s character, and those aspects of the story fire on all cylinders.
The funniest parts of the film are Elizabeth’s private chats with some of the students. Some of the dialogue may go a little too far as there are a couple questionable lines about African Americans and Asians, but I thought they were funny and in good taste.
I really loved the ending to this film. There’s a scene towards the end where Elizabeth and one of her students has a conversation on a field trip that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly. Even though the film meanders for almost 90 minutes, it knows its end destination.
Bad Teacher could have been funnier, and definitely over relies on Diaz, but it’s a solid comedy. I prefer this to a movie like Bridesmaids which is way too long and forgets it’s a comedy in the last half hour. Bad Teacher lasts for the perfect amount of time. The jokes rely more on solid dialogue rather than shock value, which is why I look forward to seeing this again at some point.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)