wed 23/07/2014

Bad Teacher | Film reviews, news & interviews

Bad Teacher

Well, at least Cameron Diaz's latest gets the adjective right

'Bad' doesn't begin to describe Cameron Diaz fiasco

As if the education profession wasn't beleaguered enough at present in America, along comes Bad Teacher, the Cameron Diaz vehicle dedicated to the proposition that the only sector of society more deserving of contempt than students is filmgoers. Here's a movie that asks you to believe that the scarily thin Diaz can gorge out on junk food and retain her figure, that a teacher would steal from her student's parents (during Christmas dinner, no less), and that "dry fuck the fuck out of me" is the new "you had me at 'hello'". Not quite.

It's been so long since Diaz has made a decent film - The Box, anyone? - that it's just possible she thinks the script has something to say, if only because To Kill a Mockingbird gets faux-inspirationally name-checked. Or maybe the actress was happy to play a skimpily clad, money-grubbing snob who lusts after her real-life beau of old, Justin Timberlake, even as she is in turn courted by PE teacher Jason Segel. And so what if logic would indicate that the two men should clearly have swapped roles?

Scott informs us he's pro-choice on every topic except that one - an admission intended to get a laugh

Timberlake plays the bespectacled supply teacher upon whom Diaz's Elizabeth Halsey sets her sights after parting company with an ex who turns out to be gay. We could have told her as much, the minute it's revealed that the self-evident mamma's boy also likes opera: a bad combo.

And so back to the blackboard for the slouchy, smutty Elizabeth, who spends class time showing students movies like Stand and Deliver when not spitting out gingerbread cookies profferred by the mum of an eager female student with dreams of being president. Good luck to her.

Trapped with a loutish room-mate whom she met off Craigslist, Elizabeth decides to do whatever it takes to snare some cash, though why she doesn't just surrender to her inner hooker is better off not asked. (There's a sudsy foam interlude that would be right at home in 1970s soft-core porn.) Instead, Elizabeth sets about securing for herself the affluent, improbably clueless Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), a scheme that means sideswiping fellow faculty member Amy Squirrel (an embarrassing turn from English actress Lucy Punch), who happens to be Scott's main squeeze. Amy's surname, by the way, does mean that Punch gets to do a squirrel impression. How fun!

badteacher2Segel ambles in and out, a better actor than you'd ever guess from a film that lands him with "ball sac" jokes, as if Bad Teacher were just an inconvenient stepping stone on the way to making The Hangover III. (That is not a suggestion.) Timberlake (pictured right with Diaz while Abraham Lincoln stands impassively behind them) regresses considerably from the fizz that he brought to The Social Network. To be fair, perhaps he thought the damp-patch scene might be left on the cutting-room floor.

What astonishes most are the reactionary undercurrents to a film set in Barack Obama's former political stomping ground, Chicago, that has about as much time for America's current President as it does for abortion. Scott informs us in passing that he's pro-choice on every topic except that one - an admission that I think was intended to get a laugh. Well, it didn't.

Phyllis Smith crops up as a kindly if timid colleague, the alumna of the Stateside version of TV's The Office here confusing apparent retardation for sweetness and naivety. Playing the hapless school principal, one-time New York theatre mainstay John Michael Higgins lectures Diaz on her wayward ways, later comparing the sorry state of affairs to "a real shit sandwich". The plot also requires Diaz at one point to pose as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a turn of events indicating that director Jake Kasdan and his team understand even less about the fourth estate than they do about instruction.

Why go on? Because Bad Teacher does, alas, for 92 minutes. Here's one film I can't imagine any self-respecting pedagogue ever showing in class.

Watch the trailer for Bad Teacher (or not)

Why Cameron Diaz's character doesn't simply surrender to her inner hooker is a question better off not asked

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