Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Written By: Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Phyllis Smith, and John Michael Higgins
Director of Photography: Alar Kivilo, Editor: Tara Timpone, Production Designer: Jefferson Sage, Original Music: Michael Andrews
Rated: R for sex humor, sex, language, drugs, and well, at least there’s no violence.
Cameron Diaz is the type of actress who will get down and dirty for anything. When we first discovered her in There’s Something About Mary, she played ball with the raunchiest of humor, showing there was no low she wouldn’t go. Then she became a sweetheart, a title that never fit her. Flop after flop, such as the Charlie’s Angels reboot or Knight and Day tried to cast her as the pretty girl, and more serious pictures like Gangs of New York tried to place her as an Oscar contender. But Ms. Diaz has always been best at being crass, rude, and low, a talent that too few actresses have, or are too afraid to do (unless it also involves Nazis).
That is why watching Ms. Diaz smash through the Gates of Hell in Bad Teacher is so appealing. The film is more or less summed up by its title—Ms. Diaz plays a very, very bad person, who is shaping America’s youth in the worse way possible. Under the direction of Jake Kasdan, known for his cult hit Orange County and the very ridiculous and funny Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher is a bit of a narrative mess, dropping scenes and subplots like a blind WWII bomber. But Ms. Diaz, as well as her fellow co-stars, sell this ridiculous and very funny movie.
As much as there is a plot, the film begins with Elizabeth Hurley (Ms. Diaz) leaving her one year teaching job to marry her billionaire husband, who leaves her after realizing she’s just in for the money. Back at her teaching job, she avoids the flirtation of the overweight and lazy gym teacher (Jason Segel), and especially the constant barrage of good feelings from a fellow teacher, the perfectly named Amy Squirrel. Loaded with a perfect Palinesque demeanor and accent, the British comedian Lucy Punch nails it as Squirrel, played the yin to Ms. Diaz’s yang in a number of delightful scenes. What does attract Elizabeth to do something—anything at her job besides drink and smoke while on the job, showing movies to her class to pass the time—is the appearance of a new substitute teacher named Scott, played by Justin Timberlake. Mr. Timberlake has shown on Saturday Night Live to be a gifted comedian, but sketch comedy (or playing Mephisto in The Social Network) is very different from a full-fledged character, and the boy band star can’t seem to shake that personality, save for one delicious scene that isn’t worth ruining.
But the star is Ms. Diaz. Drunkenly swaying from classroom to classroom with short skirts and long stilettos, Elizabeth is truly a terrible person, and neither Ms. Diaz nor Mr. Kasdan are concerned with making her even a bit sympathetic. The film’s conviction to stay truly nasty and unflinching in its portrait is one of the joys of Bad Teacher, as it refuses to give anyone their comeuppance, delighting itself in the joys of being bad. However, I wish that the screenwriters, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, fought harder to make the adventure feel whole. Not every sequence in Bad Teacher needs to move the narrative forward, but too many feel thrown-in for shocks or laughs, while other plots are disregarded and ultimately discarded for higher stake ideas. The film’s script feels like a first draft, only brought together by its cast.
But man, what a turn for Ms. Diaz! As Ms. Diaz approaches forty, it will certainly be more difficult for the star to find roles that can play to her best talents, and even her role in Bad Teacher casts her in a role more suited for a twenty-year-old. But Ms. Diaz shows it ain’t about looks; this should be about talent, and no other actress could hit it so high out of the park, by aiming so low.