Barely earns its passing grade in a predictable and sporadically funny comedy that sits in the chunky middle section of the bell-curve, neither failing completely or excelling.
Earlier this year, Waiting for Superman warned us of the dangers of an underfunded and understaffed American school system. The development of the core audience for films like Bad Teacher may not have been one of the topics covered, but the dumbing down of American comedy may just be one of the side-effects of a broken system. Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) is recently dumped by her rich meal ticket, so enters the school system as a means of finding an income without much effort.
In the series of clips that Elizabeth plays in class suggests, from 1988’s Stand and Deliver to the “Gangsta’s Paradise” of 1995’s Dangerous Minds, teachers and students trying to connect on screen are stories as old as the medium itself. Bad Teacher flips the roles by making the teacher the broken one that needs fixing, and surrounds her with a series of dysfunctional adults to hammer home the point. In theory, this could have been the comedy of the year, but from the title down to the tips of Diaz’s pointy shoes, a giant Post-It note needs to be stuck to the script with the words “Tries too hard” circled in red pen.
If Bad Teacher were a student, it would be the kid who sits up the back and thinks that he is far funnier than he actually is. That kid is occasionally chuckle-worthy, and is prone to catching you off-guard with his truthfully crude commentary. Yet for the most part, you just want him to sit outside, knowing that he will either end up as a low-paid bogan or a film blogger.
It would be unfair to say that the problems begin with the casting, as everybody involved has proved that they can work under the right circumstances. Diaz has come off a string of bad films, and only The Box stands out in a poor run from 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle to her forgettable role in the otherwise fun The Green Hornet, that also includes rom-coms The Holiday, What Happens in Vegas and (shudder) Knight and Day along the way. Segal manages to push his regular persona out through some poorly structured material, which allows him to do what he does best and ad-lib. Timberlake has shown that he has the capability to act, but this just isn’t one of those films that will be on his showreel: he may have brought sexy back, but not even that can explain the logic-leap of the dry-humping scene. The real strength is in Punch’s Squirrel and The Office‘s Phyllis Smith, and they manage to steal the meagre scraps of scenes they are given. Lacking the cohesive narrative or genuine heart of Judd Apatow’s and Terry Zwigoff’s similarly mean-spirited comedies, Bad Teacher makes a poor role model.
Bad Teacher is released on July 21, 2011 in Australia by Sony.