Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch
Review: 1.5 stars (of five)
The movie is called Bad Teacher. It could’ve been called Bad Writing. Also, Lackluster Direction, but I think there’s something in development at Paramount that’s already using that title.
Cameron Diaz is a bad teacher. No, she’s a bad human being. She is an astonishingly dumb, cruel, selfish, disinterested human being. Toward the end, the filmmakers redeem her by giving her a sort of change of heart or emotional growth spurt that’s never explained. The filmmakers just decide that Diaz is now likable and deserving of a happy ending, and then the credits roll. ‘Cause character development and plot structure are for wimps, moviegeek.
Justin Timberlake plays the feckless object of Diaz’ money-fueled lust. He minces and coos all his dialogue like the shallowest possible impression of the third lead falsetto in a suburban church choir, and it’s not his fault—dude’s got comedic and acting talent, and this script gives him maybe one opportunity to use it (in a cheap gross-out sex joke). The rest of the cast is similarly talented, similarly underchallenged, and therefore, despite themselves, forgettable, except one guy.
Insert quick plot recap: Shallow bitch Diaz wants to marry a rich guy. Oh, she also wants big breast implants (the movie pursues this thread ceaselessly, then fails to deliver the grossout joke that would be right in its taste wheelhouse: giving her oversized implants.) But she wants the fake breasts just to attract a man who’s rich. Which Timberlake is. Meanwhile, she won’t give the time of day to the likable lug played by Jason Segel, who’s a lowly gym teacher.
Segal plays the whole film watching Diaz be shallow and mean, and liking her anyway, because he’s got a sense of humor and can be just a little bit of a wise-ass jerk himself. He’s got flaws, he’s got virtues, and he’s the only person in the film who is believable as a human. It’s easy to say an actor is too good for a film, but this character was too good for the film.
There are good moments, and they are squandered by the lazy and uninspired direction of this Kasdan guy, whose dad directed The Empire Strikes Back. I have nothing more to say about this crap film other than this: Diaz’s character is unrealistically awful—there’s no way she could keep her job, no way the people around her would act the way they do. Yet despite the film’s reveling in over-the-top awful behavior, the result is never a level of outrageousness that brings real laughs. If you can’t reach heights of absurd glory, you’re better off with a story and characters that are believable.
Bonus List of Missed Opportunities
Instead of talking about what’s in the film that sucks, let’s talk about all the ways halfway competent filmmakers might’ve made the film better:
- Why is Diaz so vile? How does this beautiful woman become such a self-centered, gold-digging bitch? What kind of life has she had, to turn her into this? Has she always been this way, or has hitting her 40s still unmarried made her desperate to find security (though not, judging from her interests, love).
- Who doesn’t want love? I get that Diaz is focused on winning the security of a rich guy, but who has no urges for friendship, companionship, or romance, either?
- What if everyone wasn’t stupid? The film, and Diaz, depend on everyone around her being absolutely clueless (except Lucy Punch’s one suspicious, competitive goody-good teacher).
- What if Diaz had to deal with real people rather than cardboard-cutout geeks?
- Why is Punch’s character so angry? The goody-good teacher shows flashes of genuine repressed rage on a few key occasions. What’s that about? The contrast between “church bake sale” and “swearing psychopath” could’ve been milked for more laughs and more pathos.
- Why not cast Drew Barrymore? Seriously, if this had been a Drew Barrymore film, she’d have had the script rewritten to give the character a more rounded, relatable side, and Barrymore’s ability to play into your sympathy would’ve outshone Diaz’s willingness to engage in inappropriate behavior, which is nice (and Barrymore has that in spades, too), but not enough to make us like her. Seriously, when have you ever watched Cameron Diaz and really felt like you got inside her head and knew her character?
- The Sad Fat Woman. One of the side characters is a sweet, idiotic, mumbling, shy woman who is very overweight and middle-aged … and alone. Diaz, the movie, and the audience regard her as a loser. But Diaz is just as alone, despite being younger and hot. She is superficial. The other woman is a victim, in part, of superficiality. Is there something to be learned here, or explored? Irony?
- Heal thyself: There’s a pointless B plot about a dorky boy who pines for the ostensibly hot chick (middle school standards apply). Diaz repeatedly tells him he can’t have her. And she’s right, according to the movie. Yet Diaz also wants an object of high competition: A rich man. And rich men with their pick of women (there are two in this movie, and they’re both incongruously mild and sweet) don’t want her because she’s unattractive, ultimately. The movie doesn’t notice this, and fails to mine it for any effect.
The star-and-a-half rating is entirely for the brief moments of entertainment supplied by the talented supporting cast.