In all of the movies that have taken place inside a school very few of them have really revolved around a terrible teacher. Think about it – Jack Black’s character in School of Rock was completely unorthodox but he inspired his students gave them confidence and turned them into rock stars. In Matilda even though Ms. Trunchbull was the worst Ms. Honey exhibited supreme kindness towards everyone and even ended up rescuing Matilda from her terrible parents. Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds dealt with a lot of crap from her students but even instilled some values in them and changed their attitudes towards learning. As far as I can tell most movies where teachers are involved generally focus on the positive impacts they make on their students. And this is why Jake Kasdan's Bad Teacher is pretty enjoyable -- it capitalized on a human experience that for one reason or another is rarely explored in film.
Absolutely everyone on the planet has had a bad teacher over the course of his or her academic pursuits but I feel comfortable saying none of them have been as selfish manipulative rude and insincere as the one Cameron Diaz plays and in Bad Teacher. Diaz’s Ms. Halsey has reason to possess all of those attributes though – the very wealthy man she conned into being her husband suddenly decides he wants a divorce because he realizes she only loved him for his money. This forces Ms. Halsey to make the humiliating return to teaching at the school where she previously broadcasted how she’d never have to work another day in her life and she takes the hopelessness of her situation out on her students by showing them movies in class so she can wrap her head up in her billowy sweaters pop oxycodone and nap. However Ms. Halsey’s spirits start to beam again when she meets the new substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake who interestingly enough dated Diaz from 2003 to 2007) and learns that his family owns a very successful designer watch business. Over the course of trying to woo him away from fellow seventh grade teacher Ms Squirrel (Lucy Punch) Ms. Halsey learns that the best way for her to get with Mr. Delacorte is to get breast implants and she goes into frenzy to try and scrape together the $9 000 it costs to get breast implants. Only when her teacher friend Lynn (Phyllis Smith) tells her that the educator whose students get the highest score on the state exam gets a $5 700 bonus does Ms. Halsey transform into a teacher who’s dedicated to explaining To Kill a Mockingbird to her students.
One of the things most surprising about Bad Teacher was a lack of interaction between the teachers and the students. Granted Diaz plays a character whose biggest resentment is the fact that she’s teaching again and so of course she’s going to keep a distance between herself and her pupils but the funniest moments in the movie came when the various tribulations of middle school students were addressed by their educators (who don’t have all their crap together either and who are essentially are struggling with the same problems). It’s somewhat difficult to believe screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky were in favor of keeping teacher and student exchanges to a minimum and I understand why made this creative decision (again the movie was written to be about the teachers rather than the students). But without the kids setting the movie in the school is pointless and there’s nothing to distinguish it from all the other flicks about a woman who spends her time swearing off all the good guys that come her way because she’s more interested in finding a rich one. And so it seems like a bit of a shame and a waste that the students didn’t carry more weight in the production.
It should be noted that this movie was for the most part extraordinarily well cast. Cameron Diaz seemed to have an easy time in being completely unpleasant without being deplorable and Jason Segel was as effortlessly brilliant as always as the gym teacher with eyes for Ms. Halsey. Phyllis Smith’s embodiment of Lynn the quiet teacher who ponders rebelling against the system was the perfect sidekick for Ms. Halsey and Tom Lennon’s role of the administrator at the state testing facility was incredibly too brief and was something else that was underutilized. Lucy Punch was fantastic playing the overzealous and obsessive teacher Ms. Squirrel and unfortunately it can be surmised that Justin Timberlake’s close proximity to her character throughout the movie was responsible for his severe over-acting.
In general though Bad Teacher is well conceived and well executed. Its shortcomings are few and minor and at times it seems like there’s more going on than there needs to be but it's a spunky comedy with an unapologetic boldness that finally manages to take you inside a classroom you actually don't want to leave.