Monday, June 27, 2011

Bad... Just Bad

Sometimes as a film reviewer I absolutely KNOW when I'm going to hate a movie well before I've purchased a ticket for entry. While some films have surprised me as to the levels of their suckitude, such as Sucker Punch, many more have met expectations well below even baseline standards, their ranks flush with titles like The Eagle, Your Highness, and Red Riding Hood. At a certain point I can only justify so much, and often I go into a theater knowing that I won't emerge pleased with the experience, ready to warn you my readers of crimes against your sensibilities and your wallets. Bad Teacher is another in that growing list of titles in which I knew any preexisting standards would be too high. For one, I can't think of a single film I'VE seen where Cameron Diaz has proven her star status. Sure, she was good in The Mask, but what has she done lately that has been remotely interesting? Secondly, the trailers seemed to rely on vulgarity over anything actually comedic, a sad trend to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Finally, the story that was presented came down to a complete insult to educators in general, portraying the "hero" of the tale as someone who doesn't care at all about her students, only bothering with them when there's something in it for her. As someone who is friends with teachers and holds great respect for the work they do, I couldn't help but feel like this subversive fantasy paints these hard-working sorts in a negative light with little to no redemption on the horizon.

So who's the bigger tool?
Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) dislikes her chosen profession as a teacher, a career that she for some reason at one point chose. After a failed engagement to a rich sucker ended an early attempt to quit teaching, Elizabeth is forced to return to the classroom she hates. Determined to escape, she tries to gain the attentions of the new substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who has a substantial family fortune, and to that end is trying to save up for a super expensive boob job. Elizabeth is confronted on many sides, however; the teacher across the hall, Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), suspects the worst in Elizabeth, while gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) vies for her affections.

Diaz won this year's "Wrinkled Fish" competition hands down
I'm really not sure where the appeal for this type of film lies. It's certainly not in the storytelling, which is haphazard and all over the place like a drunk driver on New Year's Day. That's an appropriate comparison to Elizabeth, who is so unlikable that it's amazing that she's portrayed as the hero of the tale, not to mention a potential romantic interest for not one but two characters. Is it me, or is the whole notion of the "good guy" being the person who has no compulsion to help her students out of the goodness of her heart while the "bad guy" is one who actually has the interests and well-being of the children in mind completely insane? Not helping matters is the focus of the film. Concentrating on the three least sympathetic characters does Bad Teacher no favors, with the story and dialogue failing to provide amusement through either comedy or commentary. There's nothing here about the rigors, excitement or rewards of being a teacher; students are mere caricatures and the people making up the faculty aren't much better.

The most balls the film can muster
A little bit of humanity wouldn't have hurt, especially distributed among the main cast. What attracted Diaz to this offensive role is in serious question, as she usually chooses more audience-friendly fare in which to be seen, such as the crowd-pleasing Charlie's Angels. I guess she liked the idea of being part in such a foul-mouthed comedy, but there's very little to the character Elizabeth Halsey that is either challenging or deep. Diaz is fine as a uncaring educator, but this is just more proof of a low-ceiling role that Diaz takes to make a buck while neglecting to challenge herself, which is why she's not and will never be a top-flight talent. Timberlake is similarly wasted, as even his trademark charm does him no good with the realization that his character is a brainless tool, deserving of neither Elizabeth's nor our admiration. Unlike last year's Social Network, which utilized near the entirety of Timberlake's charisma, there's no reason this film couldn't have cast a nobody performer; the audience probably wouldn't have noticed the difference. Punch is the best of the three, but of course her character is villainized due solely to her opposing Elizabeth. She does get a few moments to shine, but she's neither a well-known enough actress nor particularly consistent enough to engage us.

No, those aren't Muppets with Segel, but I can see what you're talking about
It's with the secondary characters of Bad Teacher where you can start to see where things could have gone right for the film. Jason Segel is great in his smallish role of the gym teacher with interests in Elizabeth. Segel does a great job with these "nice guy" roles, further evidenced here with a character that is as fun to watch as he is underutilized. This also comes through as the film uses its smaller roles to inflict its best impacts upon the audience, with Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet, The Office's Phyllis Smith, and Reno 911's Thomas Lennon sharing not only the best dialogue and comedic elements, but the film's best overall acting talent with Segel

Why do I suddenly have Fountains of Wayne going through my head?
I could go on for paragraphs about the twisted morality of rooting between the characters of Elizabeth and Amy Squirrell, but I have no interest in giving this film more attention than it deserves. Among the worst that 2011 has so far offered, Bad Teacher could have been more than the obtuse, crude fantasy for the teachers out there who really hate their jobs, but not by much. This is likely the worst from director Jake Kasdan, and since he was responsible for the farce that was Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, that says a lot about what I thought of this Bad Teacher. There are a lot of forgivable crimes in the world of film and Hollywood, but a comedy that isn't funny doesn't get a lot of respect or leniency from me, and it shouldn't from you, either.

1 comment:

Kawana said...

Hey John,

I actually went to see this with a coworker on the last day of school yesterday and I would say that your review is pretty spot on. Being teachers, we both went in thinking it would be a guilty-pleasure ridden, satirical look at teaching. Something fun about the ups and downs of working with children and adults. But it can definitely be viewed as skewering and insulting - esp. with some sexism in the female teacher roles (one quits as soon as she gets engaged; the other pawns desperately to keep a guy).

The movie had a few laughs, but they were definitely from Jason Segal (who I just love) and Eric Stonestreet from "Modern Family". This film definitely won't be recommended by me.