I have always had a baseless, irrational hatred for Cameron Diaz. I’ve never kept up with any tabloid news about her personal life, so it’s not like I think she’s a bad person; I don’t even think she’s a bad actress. I just don’t like her. So it was inevitable that I would have disliked Bad Teacher, even if it hadn’t been so… bad.
Here’s a little run-down. It will include spoilers, just so you don’t have to see the movie to understand an analysis of it because—and I cannot stress this enough—nobody should see this movie. It’s awful, and not even over-the-top, entertaining awful; just a banal, boring kind of awful. Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) quits her job as a seventh-grade English teacher, a job she likes because of its “lack of accountability” and summers off, in anticipation of marrying her rich fiancé and never working another day in her sorry life. When he unexpectedly dumps her, she goes back to teaching, which mostly consists of her striding through the halls wearing monochromatic designer clothes, gracelessly avoiding all those cheesy dopes who wear colors. Her main strategy for doing this is literally running in the opposite direction of her coworkers and students (this joke is repeated twice).
In the classroom, she screens movies every day while she sleeps off her hangover. She’s convinced that she’ll be able to attract another rich guy if she gets a boob job (ahem, we’ll get to this later), but she can’t afford one, so she comes up with a couple of zany get-rich-quick (or should I say get-tits-quick? Ho ho ho) schemes.
Zany Get-Rich-Quick Scheme #1: Embezzle money from a student car wash fundraiser. Cue shameless montage of Halsey soaking her Daisy Dukes in hose spray, leaping abdomen-first onto a car hood like a beached trout and generally doing a spot-on imitation of that one Jessica Simpson video. This is interspersed with shots of men (and one woman, who we were notified was gay in the first few minutes of the movie because she had pit stains and cared about women’s prisons) staring at her slack-jawed, then, in case we still didn’t get the point that she’s hot, there is a slow-motion close-up of a pubescent boy’s sweatpants tentpole boner.
Zany Get-Rich-Quick Scheme #2: Marry Scott (Justin Timberlake), the doofy, high-fiving, Eat, Pray, Love-loving, toggle-sweater-wearing substitute teacher. Timberlake’s character does two things that no substitute teacher has ever done, things that are anathema to the entire existence of substitute teachers: show up to school every day and have access to a lot of family money. His mom is part of a family of watchmakers, or something? Who cares. Anyway, he gets with with Elizabeth’s nemesis, the terminally enthusiastic Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, who made the movie semi-bearable), so Elizabeth comes on to him and he cheats on Amy with Elizabeth, but instead of having sex, they dry-hump, fully clothed. This involves an uncomfortably long take of Justin Timberlake’s face while he struggles mightily to climax into his own jeans. It’s not worth a $10 ticket but it’s still pretty great, so I recreated a photo-realistic version of it in Paintbrush just for you:
Zany Get-Rich-Quick Scheme #3: Make her students get the highest scores on the state exam so she can get the bonus check that comes with it. There’s a de rigueur whip-the-kids-into-shape montage, but they still suck, so she steals the answers to the exam by roofie-ing a government employee and blackmailing him with nude photos she took while he was passed out. Yeah. Sexual abuse, it’s hilarious.
At the end, Elizabeth magically transforms into slightly less of a selfish jerk, then she doesn’t want cosmetic surgery anymore and she admits that she likes Jason Segel, which I think is supposed to signify that she has come to accept herself and others, or something like that… but then she also manages to frame Amy Squirrel for some of her own crimes. As punishment, Amy must go teach at an awful school that is heavily implied to be predominantly black (i.e. it’s named after Malcolm X. lol black people rite????).
It’s bad, duh it’s bad, but I didn’t enjoy it in the least, which is a different bag of jelly beans altogether. Diaz’s character is lazy and obnoxious, her transformation is heavy-handed and cliched and there are some pretty obvious logistical impossibilities, but all those are to be expected from a mainstream comedy. What was it that made me actively hate it, rather than just suspend my inner critic enough to dismiss it or tolerate it? Cameron Diaz, for one. I think she was pretty bad in this movie, and I don’t see her as a comedic actress, but that might just be because of my aforementioned baseless hatred. Would I have bought this cheap transformation from a male actor? Or from a female actor that I like better? Or basically anyone besides Cameron Diaz? Probably not, but I still think I’m conditioned to find men in roles like this more sympathetic.
I also think I dislike the character because the movie shies away from making her faults actually funny. The humor is based on this idea that she’s sassy and irreverent and out there, but we never see her do or say anything that would seriously undermine the power that she, as a conventionally attractive woman, holds over the other characters, anything that would place her character in a situation that’s truly humiliating or challenging. She’s always pretty much in control, which is not a good place for a comedic lead to be. The whole joke, then, is purely theoretical, based on an assumption of incongruity (she’s a teacher, so she has to act appropriately around students… but she drinks a lot!) that never gets played out to its full extent. We don’t even ever see her get drunk. It never hits you on a gut level, which is where you laugh, so you don’t. Whether or not you thought Bridesmaids was funny and/or adhered to your specific definition of feminism, it’s interesting to compare the two—both mainstream summer comedies from major studios starring at least one woman—and how far they push their respective female leads. Bridesmaids, of course, featured experienced improv comedians in both major and minor roles, which certainly helped.
Elizabeth’s goals are, in this order: marry rich; get plastic surgery in order to marry rich. I know she’s supposed to be stupid and shallow, and that her materialism and vanity are meant to be cartoonish, but her character adheres so rigorously to the boring trope of conniving, gold-digging, slutty blonde lady that the characterization comes off as a parody of women rather than an individual representation of a flawed person. Why Jason Segel’s gym teacher even wants to get with her is a mystery—she has no interests besides getting drunk or high and watching television. Then again, neither do all the man-children who get dumped by ice queen career bitches in the Apatow universe and then eventually find love with women who accept them for the losers they are. Unfortunately, Elizabeth doesn’t even have the saving grace of kooky bros to get stoned with. There are also tons of lost opportunities for jokes about how hard it is to be an American public school teacher. Plus, if she screened movies every day, the kids would just stop showing up to class. They’re in middle school—they have better things to do, like smoke bad weed and send each other ill-advised topless cameraphone self-portraits.
Also, I know it’s a mainstream comedy and not an art film but seriously, could this movie have been less visually interesting? It was like watching a sitcom. They could have used painted backdrops and no one would have noticed.
**Official Introduction: This is the first entry in a twelve-week guest blog series about movies; I’ll be writing about “summer movies” in the blockbuster sense of the word, but also just about movies in general. The blog title is lifted from the Franz Ferdinand song “The Dark of the Matinée.”