18 June 2011
2011, 92mins, 15
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer (s): Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Cast includes: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Thomas Lennon
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011
If I were to describe Jake Kasdan’s “Bad Teacher” in one word, it would be "wasteful". The film neglects to make much use of either its spicy premise or cool cast, flat direction and poor writing too often undoing what little good the picture boasts. Cameron Diaz tears into the leading role with relish, but sadly there aren’t enough worthwhile jokes on show to buoy the comedienne’s efforts, resulting in a final product that can’t keep pace with its star. It would be remiss to label “Bad Teacher” as utter bilge, but to date it’s probably one of 2011’s wildest underachievers.
After her plans for a life of married luxury fall through, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is forced to return fulltime to her teaching job. A neglectful and morally bankrupt educator, Elizabeth quickly becomes suspect in the eyes of upbeat co-worker Amy (Lucy Punch), a hyperactive and diligent busybody who dislikes Elizabeth’s classroom etiquette. When a wealthy new temp named Scott (Justin Timberlake) joins the school staff, Elizabeth sees a prime gold-digging opportunity, predicting a pricey boob job will provide her with the keys to the young man’s heart. In a bid to raise funds for her surgery, Elizabeth overlooks her professional duties more than ever, desperate to amass enough cash before a scheming Amy makes her own move on Scott.
Diaz is in storming potty -mouthed form, but the script by “Year One” scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg fails to build the character into anything more than a boozy, sexually promiscuous parade of “fucks” and “shits”. “Bad Teacher” barely features a narrative arc, and grants its central figure literally no redeeming qualities. Towards the end of the production Elizabeth does something for a student that the filmmakers want us to read as edgy yet touching, but in truth it’s just creepy. It’s this sort of misjudged writing that makes the film such a tough sit in spots, Diaz deserving minor praise for doing her very best, but unfortunately she’s been saddled with an unworkable role.
Kasdan fails to juggle his supporting team efficiently, whilst the script as a whole features at least one key character too many. As the object of Elizabeth’s affections, Timberlake manages a few amusing line readings, but is generally happy to keep hitting the same notes again and again. It doesn’t help that his character makes precious little sense, his personality seemingly varying from scene to scene. At some points he’s a voice of reason and decency, but in others he’s the type of guy who cheats on his girlfriend and ejaculates in his pants. Lucy Punch on the other hand is excellent, displaying oodles of energy and a clear knack for physical tomfoolery. Diaz may be adequate, but it’s Punch who really stands out here. Jason Segel is barely there as a gym teacher aspiring to hook up with Elizabeth, yet another talent underserviced by the lackluster writing. This tedious arc, along with one involving a nerdy kid trying to score with a girl in Elizabeth’s class, is a perfect example of how structurally misguided “Bad Teacher” is. To call is loose storytelling would be an understatement
Aside from a neat opening credits sequence, Jake Kasdan displays very little flair or even directorial competency with “Bad Teacher”, a surprising revelation given that his previous comedies (“Orange County” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) were both quite good. The pacing feels off throughout, whilst interactions between the actors often appear forced and unnatural. Kasdan also makes the rookie error of allowing multiple scenes to run beyond their comedic lifespan, resulting in several missed punch lines and a bloated runtime. At a standard 92 minutes “Bad Teacher” may not appear overcooked on paper, but in execution it feels stretched way beyond its natural length. In fact the ideal format for this concept would probably have been a 5-minute sketch, not a feature length summer release.
There are some laughs to be had, a stinging line of dialogue here, and maybe an enjoyable thespian contribution there. I did chortle a handful of times, and have no reservations about applauding the piece for committing so rigidly to its vulgar R-Rated vibe. Still, these minor positives can’t outweigh the massive problems, which when combined render “Bad Teacher” a patchy miscalculation.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011