Monday, June 27, 2011

Not the Teacher From My Fantasies -- Reflections on "Bad Teacher" (2011)

Exactly how I felt after seeing this turd.

I imagine most teen boys have sexual fantasies about their teachers. Van Halen exploited this idea in their classic song, "Hot for Teacher," and I think the adult film industry has patented an entire genre of academic porn. I know that when I was a teenager, I enjoyed daydreaming about my Senior Anatomy and Physiology teacher (no joke). And girls are not immune to these sorts of fantasies either. Oh, the things the young ladies in my high school said about the AP History teacher...

Bad Teacher wants to take this idea and turn it into a fun, dark comedy. Unfortunately, all it has done is take a huge, steaming pile of shit that was a screenplay and turn it into a huge, steaming pile of shit called a movie. In the right hands, an idea like this could aspire to attain the heights of Terry Zwigoff's classic Bad Santa. Unfortunately, it seems as if no one involved with this film really wanted to make a good one.

The Basics: Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) is a gold digging bitch who can't wait to leave her crappy teaching job behind and marry the rich heel she's convinced to tie the knot. Unfortunately for her, he realizes the kind of woman she is and dumps her before she can screw him forever. Elizabeth returns to her thankless job with the idea that if she can make enough money to get a boob job, she can woo the rich new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Timberlake) and find a new sugar daddy to rescue her from the banality of a career. Along the way she has to put up with a type-A teacher (Lucy Punch), a simpering lackey (Phyllis Smith), and a gym teacher (Jason Segel) who wants to hook up with her.

Main Character Misfire: There's a lot that's wrong with the movie. But the number one problem is the main character. I get that Elizabeth is supposed to be unlikable, but creating a movie with an unlikable protagonist that is expected the carry the story is hard, and the movie fails. On some level, we should be able to get behind Elizabeth and care somewhat for her, even with all of her rotten behavior. Sure, she smokes pot,  gets drunk in class, lets the kids watch movies constantly, and insults everyone she barely cares to notice unless they offer her something. But underneath that we should be able to see a person we can root for. Diaz plays Elizabeth as a conniving, wicked, horror show, and as a result it's no fun following her.

By contrast, if you go back to Billy Bob Thornton's performance in Bad Santa, you'll find a character every bit as vile, but pathetic. We feel sorry for him as he drinks, whores, and throws his life away. No such luck for Elizabeth, who I really just wanted to see get punched in the face.

Missed Opportunities: What could have redeemed this movie are the kids. If you remember the movie School of Rock, you'll no doubt remember the colorful cast of kids -- Zach the reluctant guitarist, Lawrence the shy Asian keyboardist, and Summer the teacher's pet. They provided the necessary foil for Jack Black's equally repulsive protagonist, Dewey Finn, who pretends to be a substitute teacher to get a group of kids to become his rock band. You will not remember any of the kids in this film, which is a shame, because a good writer would have considered how to mine that particular goldmine. A teacher as bad as Elizabeth needs to interact with her students to reveal how truly bad she is. Merely getting caught smoking weed by the class suck-up isn't enough.

Miscellaneous Thoughts: I was really struck by how poorly put together this movie was, from the cliched title sequence with its song about teachers (featuring all cast and crew names scribbled in flawless teacher's chalky handwriting) to the uninteresting visuals and the rushed editing job. It's almost as if this film was put together as a cash grab. It was an insult, and a complete waste of my time.

To give you an example of how poorly done this film was, there's a scene in which three teachers are smoking a joint in the gymnasium during a school dance. Each time the joint is passed around, it's a different size. In some shots, the roach is tiny, in others it looks like it has just been rolled. Pathetic attention to detail. And even more importantly, one of the film's major comedic sequences -- involving a dry hump -- comes out of left field with no character motivation behind it at all. It was as if the director, Jake Kasdan (who has made some good movies, like Orange County and Zero Effect) knew he had a turd on his hands and just said, "Fuck it, let's just have Diaz and Timberlake dry hump -- it's not like anyone in the audience will be intelligent enough to realize how stupid it is."

In the end, I wanted a film that had as much fun messing around with adolescent fantasies about their teachers as we all did when we were in school. All I got instead was Cameron Diaz dry humping and stealing money from anonymous children to buy herself a pair of tits.

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