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Bad Teacher (Jake Kasdan, 2011)
Cameron Diaz gets another chance to show off her underappreciated comic talents in Jake Kasdan’s rude new comedy Bad Teacher. As its title implies, Bad Teacher is centered on a middle school teacher who is anything but a role model to her students. Foul-mouthed, self-centered and motivated by greed, Diaz’s Ms. Halsey works as something of a corrective to decades of saintlike screen teachers. Diaz seizes this opportunity to be bad, and her drink-swilling, dry-humping anti-heroine offers her the sort of broadly defined, physical role that she excels in. Diaz sacrifices any need to be sympathetic or retain dignity here, and her performance is that much better for it. For all of the right reasons, this film is a reminder that Diaz made her career breakthrough by rubbing semen in her hair. Diaz’s sassy turn is clearly the best thing in Bad Teacher, and she taps into the politically incorrect vibe that runs throughout its acerbic screenplay. If the film that surrounds her is something less than a classic, it certainly stands near the top of this year’s mediocre crop of mainstream comedies.
Bad Teacher is less noteworthy for its weak plot (in which Ms. Halsey competes for both romance and professional approval against a well-liked coworker played by Lucy Punch) than for its generally malignant outlook on life and education. Rest assured, there are no heartwarming inspirational conversations between students and teachers to be found here. Indeed, the students barely register at all. Unfortunately, while Bad Teacher starts out cocksure and fearless, allowing its lead character to take no prisoners in her quest for breast implants, it does lamentably eventually begin a slight process of domestication, detoothing the satire somewhat. If the screenwriters let the enterprise down by forcing a three act structure upon this material and at least mildly reigning in Ms. Halsey’s bad behavior by the film’s end, at least we can be thankful that they resist selling out completely.
Ultimately, Bad Teacher is easy to like precisely because it doesn’t try very hard to be liked. While some of the supporting turns (Justin Timberlake’s and Jason Segal’s, specifically) seem like missed opportunities, the bulk of the material here works. While there is the hint of a better, more ruthless movie lurking here (Gus Van Sant’s To Die For would be an excellent role model) what Bad Teacher delivers is still satisfyingly snarky.