Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Film Review: Bad Teacher

We've all had them, terrible teachers who scarcely inspire their class to learn. Bad Teacher takes this concept and turns it on its head. Rather than having a teacher who is merely incompetent, Diaz's Bad Teacher just plain doesn't give a fuck. It's actually a wonder what you have to do in the US to become an 'educator'...

Dumped by her rich fiance, lazy, vain, gold-digging teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) is forced to shelve plans for early retirement and return to the school she thought she quit for good. Upon her return, wealthy, but naive new teacher Scott Delacorte (Timberlake) reignites Elizabeth's hopes of finding a sugar daddy. However, Scott spurns Elizabeth's advances in favour for the school's model teacher, Amy Squirrel (Punch). The inevitable clash of good against bad ensues.

Bad Teacher is hardly the most imaginative comedy given the material, but its reprehensible humour and tongue-in-cheek misogynism remain an enjoyable affair. Diaz's Elizabeth will stop at nothing to ensnare Scott, deciding the best way to do so is with a boob job. Elizabeth's caustic brand of guiltless hedonism burns through the sickly pleasantries of the staff room as she goes about raising money for the operation via any means necessary. Elizabeth is not above embezzling funds from a school carwash and stealing exam papers in a bid to get the best results in the state and thus a cash prize. Lust plays second fiddle to her avarice as what makes this all the more enjoyable and refreshing is that the script hasn't bothered to endow Diaz's character with any redeeming features. Indeed, Diaz's portrayal of a mischievous, materialistic and wholly nihilistic bitch actually becomes endearing. Where our opening introduction to Elizabeth generates an immediate dislike for the character, she slowly evolves and twists as the audience begins to warm to her.

This is in contrast to Timberlake and Punch's sickly duo, who start out as a bit drippy, a bit dorky, but ultimately inoffensive. However, they soon get incredibly annoying, despite having done nothing inherently wrong. Timberlake's Scott is a hipster prat with no opinion of his own, doing his best to mould into whatever shape the social setting requires of him. By the end of the film he comes across as an insufferable prick. Likewise, Punch transforms into a conniving bitch, and while it is clear to see that it is Elizabeth's actions which have driven her to madness, you can't help but enjoy watching Diaz burn her time and again. Punch is however the most colourful foil to Diaz, partly because she's the most driven and obsessive when compared to the other characters. Segel's Russell Gettis, while resigned mostly to the background, is also excellent as a down-to-earth gym teacher who observes the idiots that inhabit the world with quiet amusement. While he understands Elizabeth's game, he still wants to date her anyway. It's actually a bit of a shame at how underused Segel is and you just wish his pleasantly laid-back character was on screen more.

Perhaps Bad Teacher's biggest problem is that it doesn't really know where it wants to go. Diaz's character is "too bad" to be allowed to claim total victory in her selfish quest, and yet she doesn't exactly get dealt the justice for her abhorrent behaviour either. Instead, Elizabeth is left somewhere in limbo. While there are small signs that she might be willing to reconsider her values, ultimately the overbearing impression is that the unrepentant anti-hero got away without comeuppance. Likewise, as a character Elizabeth isn't all that fleshed out. For example, there is no explanation as to how or why this selfish little money grabber got into teaching anyway. Indeed, it is a strange career path for a person with such motivations. Also, minus Punch, there is a criticism to be made that the rest of the supporting cast at times appear a little inconsequential. They have tendencies to appear, do what is required of them, then evaporate into a whispy mist until needed again.

Despite the negatives, Bad Teacher certainly doesn't deserve an F. Diaz herself is the best thing about the film and she alone deserves at least a B. Ultimately this is rude, crude, but thoroughly good fun throughout.