21 June 2011

BAD TEACHER- Review

Just as a little pre-amble to this review, director Jake Kasdan is the man who directed Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, one of the best and most underappreciated comedies of the last ten years or so. Yep, I like it that much. I've mentioned it a number of times when I've reviewed the music biopics that the film so brilliantly lampoons, but really, go watch that movie- you won't regret it.

Anyhoo, Kasdan has since helmed Bad Teacher, a comedy vehicle for Cameron Diaz that arrived in cinemas on Friday. Diaz is Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digging middle-school teacher whose plans for an extremely early retirement go awry when her rich fiancee gets wise to her shallow nature and dumps her. Forced into another year in a job for which she is patently unsuited, she resolves to scrimp, save and extort money to fund a boob job. This, she hopes, will attract another rich suitor, in the form of earnest substitute teacher Scott Delacorte.

If you think the prospect of a comedy vehicle for Cameron Diaz seems an unusual proposition, you're not wrong. While I'm sure the box office will swell as a result of The Highest Grossing Female Star In The World headlining this film, which The Shiznit fairly predicted would be "Bad Santa In A School", it doesn't necessarily work in the film's favour. The rambunctious Miss Halsey is a role better suited to an actress with better comic timing than Diaz has to offer, like Elizabeth Banks, for instance.

Really, it's one of a few debilitating drawbacks of Bad Teacher, that we have a lead who makes an intensely unlikeable character into... well, someone who's merely not detestable. From far more pernicious sources than I, criticism of Diaz in this one will come across as the hatred of a successful woman, especially in the bitchy comments about how she's not as hot as she used to be. The problem for me was not with the perhaps inevitable sexy car wash scene, sold in all of the trailers, and the consistent self-assurance about Diaz's continued hotness, but in just how out of her depth she is next to the other actors.

Lucy Punch makes a great breakthrough as an uptight loony of a teacher called Miss Squirrel, with a rictus grin and a repressed anger that occasionally blazes out in hilarious fashion. I remembered Punch from Hot Fuzz, as an amateur Juliet who was doomed by her lousy performance, and with far more screentime, she's really the funniest thing on-screen here. Justin Timberlake raises some good laughs too, as a sweet and yet self-absorbed teacher, who spouts earnest clap-trap that makes the female faculty swoon. For example, Scott defines pro-choice as his belief that women always have the right to make their own decisions, "except abortion of course."

But the comparisons to Bad Santa fall down around Diaz, whose comic timing is way off. If I laughed at any of her dialogue, it was largely off of the reaction shots or retorts of actors like Punch, Timberlake, Phyllis Smith or Jason Segel. Segel's role is another peculiar one, setting him up as the "there all along" guy from a hundred million romcoms and yet seeming to parachute him into every single one of his scenes. He's credited as "And Jason Segel" for a reason, in this case.

Also, it feels like a patchwork comedy, of the type produced by Judd Apatow, shooting more footage than needed, which leads to several scenes that go nowhere. Just small, incidental scenes with no jokes or plot development that seem lost. In combination with the heroine's singular lack of any empathic motivation, it's perhaps not the best-written comedy you'll see this year, and it could use a good edit too. Then again, if not for the great supporting cast, then Bad Teacher is worth the price of admission if only for the most perfectly executed shit joke I can remember seeing. I felt bad at how much and how loudly the joke in question made me laugh, and the remembrance of it is making me chuckle even as I write.

And in the end, Bad Teacher is a comedy made up of memorable moments, but glued together with flim-flam. It's inevitable that Cameron Diaz will continue to be a box office draw, and that this film has a lot going for it as far as mainstream audiences are concerned. Personally, I don't think she's a good comedic lead, but she still made me laugh a couple of times, and to be fair, she may only look less capable because she's surrounded with a very fine cast of comedy actors indeed. Either way, there's enough to recommend the film if only on the merit of a damn good poop gag.

Bad Teacher is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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 I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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