Dark of the Matin

Cameron Diaz makes an irritated/irritating face at a diner sitting near a bucket of fried chicken

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:

black and white drawing of a squinty-eyed face

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.”

by Sara Reihani
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17 Comments Have Been Posted

There was the anti-abortion joke too

with Amy and Scott in the cafeteria. That one made me want to throw my popcorn at the screen!

Can anyone elaborate, for

Can anyone elaborate, for those of us who aren't going to spend the $10?

If memory serves...

The joke was something along the lines of J. Tim's Scott character telling Ms. Halsey that he supported her right to choose breast implants, and then he followed that up with "I support a woman's right to choose. Except when it comes to abortion." Then the Amy character agreed with him and they bonded over a shared hatred of abortion together.

I have to admit, I thought it was one of the few self-aware moments in the movie that actually worked, because the joke was so clearly on Scott for being a hypocrite. I still say you should save your $10 for something else, though.

I never had an inkling to see

I never had an inkling to see this movie, and now, thanks to this line: "slow-motion close-up of a pubescent boy's sweatpants tentpole boner" I have even less reason. The one thing I kind of almost appreciated was that finally a female character gets to be as immature, irresponsible and depraved as male characters. Yay? I am, however, disappointed-but-not-totally-surprised that marriage is her main goal.

I always had a bit of contempt for Diaz myself. I think it was her terrible attempt at an Irish brogue in Gangs of New York that did it for me.

I approve of your title choice.

I now have that song stuck in my head. Genuine thanks are in order. So...thanks!

I am in the exact same


I loved this review and it made me laugh- and I'm guessing I'll hate this movie, and it will NOT make me laugh, so I plan to skip it. Thanks for saving me the money!

Nice, Sara.

<p>You've summed it all up pretty well: female lead who's still an oversexualized stereotype, boring visuals, lesbian as punchline, wasted opportunities for schooling critiques. Has your Timberlake drawing gone viral yet? I expect it will, being that <a title="HollywoodNews: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake dissed for lack of chemistry" href="http://www.hollywoodnews.com/2011/06/24/cameron-diaz-justin-timberlake-d... people who have no idea what happened in that scene are apparently talking about it</a>. ("Lacking" and "pathetic"? Uh, not to defend <em>Bad Teacher</em> too much, but wasn't that kind of the point?)</p>
<p>When the lead character is supposed to be a terrible person, I think a film can generally go two ways: make hir beyond redemption so we revel in hir awfulness or await comeuppance; or make us like hir and cheer on the transformation. <em>Bad Teacher </em>went for both but didn't manage either. The sexual abuse bit was the worst. I sat there thinking "Okay, roofie... PLEASE don't make this a sexual assault or blackmail thing." It wasn't, and I was happy... then it was, after all.</p>
<p>Plus, I totally do not understand why the I-want-implants motivation was even brought in. Elizabeth just wanted money so she could stop working, right? And she'd successfully attracted rich men in the past, yes? So in the movie, she acquired a ton of money... to spend on surgery in hopes that it'd increase her chances of marrying into <em>more</em> money? wut?</p>
<p>Still, there <em>were </em>a few moments that I found funny and/or interesting, eg. the government employee's "I'm not racist. I voted for Obama. You can quote me on that." Not original, but at least we were supposed to laugh knowing that that's not legitimate logic at all. (Plus, we all know that guy, right?)</p>
<p>Then, when Amy confronted Elizabeth about sleeping with her boyfriend, she totally brushed by said boyfriend himself, forgiving him immediately, and just attacked Elizabeth. Being that Amy was the antagonist (or supposed to be?) and the brush-off was comically quick, I thought <em>maybe </em>the audience was meant to note the absurdity of women attacking each other rather than holding their boyfriends accountable for cheating. Almost subversive. If only these moments had gone further! or belonged to a different movie!</p>

I have an irrational hatred

I have an irrational hatred for Cameron Diaz too!! Actually, I don't think it's that irrational; I think there's nothing special about her. And I have been telling people that this movie looked awful and no one believed me! Glad to see that someone who clearly appreciates silly comedies still found nothing worthy in this film.

agree completely

I think you'd have to give me quite a bit of money, or chocolate, or both, to see this movie.

I don't understand why Cameron Diaz keeps getting cast in these comedies. She is not a good comedic actress.

A few years ago I watched 'Holiday' - that Christmas movie she was in with Jude Law. There's two stories - hers and Kate Winslets. I thought it was awful. Then I watched it again and fast forwarded through all the Cameron Diaz story scenes, just watched the Kate ones. Not a bad movie when you watch it that way. Tells you something.

The only thing I've seen her in that I thought she was good in was 'In Her Shoes'. I think it was because Toni Colette and Shirley MacLean (and some great writing and direction) really pulled her up.

Sounds like a whole bunch of sexist stereotyping in this movie - amazes me that this kind of thing seems even more prevalent now. And since when did sexual abuse become so funny. There are two scenes in 'Get Him to The Greek' - out last year - that involve actual sexual assaults on the main character and we are meant to think these are funny.

But wait, there's unfortunately more to come

It is so prevalent because countless hetero-straight-probably homophobic (who excuse themselves when they watch scenes of two under-100 pound women with fake boobs and shaved nether regions making out in porno movies) men run the Hollywood industrial complex. To make matters even worse, more and more home-schooled Religious right students are most interested in taking over Hollywood than, say, starting churches. They want to make sure future Hollywood films are "squeaky-clean" and full of depictions of misogyny, anything against liberalism, socialism, social justice movements, reproductive freedom, GLBTQ freedom, feminism, and definitely featuring/depicting the worst of stereotypes in all characters portrayed on screen. The worst is yet to come, I'm afraid ... (I didn't mean to sound trolly if it sounded trolly to you. My point is that I very unfortunately do not forsee progressive feminist progress in Hollywood films being made anytime soon).

Actually, that movie

Actually, that movie 'Holiday' is primarily why I hate Diaz. She had a line in the movie about how she was on a diet or had to watch her caloric intake or something and I shouted at the screen and turned it off.

She's in 'Being John Malkovitch' however, which is a GREAT film that deals with lesbianism in a completely different way. Watch it!

Yes! Being John Malkovich is

Yes! Being John Malkovich is something I just watched for the first time the other night, and I was stunned by Cameron Diaz's performance, and that movie in general. It was so refreshing to see her go "plain" for a character (although there's no hiding those killer cheekbones) and play a different type of person than she normally does. There was so much sensitivity and passion and a sort of innocence in her character that I found very refreshing.


the movie may not be worth the $10, but your article certainly is, especially given it's illustrated.

forgive me for being forward, but have you considered animating that photo-realistic picture of the "uncomfortably long take of Justin Timberlake's face while he struggles mightily to climax into his own jeans"?

i can't wait to see what you have in you for the rest of your 12-week stint. yay.

Coincidence? I think not.

After reading several comments, I see that there's a common trend--not many of the commentators like or are impressed by Cameron Diaz! haha! I too get this annoyed feeling when I see a Cameron Diaz movie. And it's not the movie, it's her. I actually like some of the movies that she has starred in, I just don't like the character she happens to play. It's not that I hate her or anything like that, but I don't know, she just doesn't cut it for me as an actress. There's no spark there. Like, for example, Sandra Bullock. Meg Ryan, and/or Diane Keaton. I personally LOVE these actresses.They are able to ignite a certain spark to their characters and the movies as a whole, thus creating great substance to the movie. They make it happen! On the other hand, every time I see a movie with Cameron Diaz...it's void. There's no substance.
I hoping that she will one day change my mind. Keeping my fingers crossed.

I feel good having read your

I feel good having read your article. I saw and (yes) enjoyed The Hangover 2 and Bridesmaids over the last couple of week and was subjected to the Bad Teacher preview both times. It looked just like your article said, so I'm glad to hear that. Well, not glad, but vindicated. I can't believe that movie would ever be made or watched by anyone.

So much in the world makes me angry right now. I'm not sure what I can do about it yet, but I think getting angry is a good start.

An awful woman not humiliated for her awfulness? Sounds fab

"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..."

Wait a minute. So you're telling me that a female lead gets to be snarky and amoral and stoned and drunk and sweary and DOESN'T GET PUNISHED FOR IT??? Oh, NO! Sounds HORRIBLE!

In all seriousness, you'd have to pay me a lot of money NOT to see this movie (it hasn't opened in Oz yet). As a cynical teacher, I'd pay to see most ANYHTING that doesn't reinforce that horrid idea that teaching is a spiritual vocation for a select few annointed masochists (or a raunchy adult comedy from Hollywood that doesn't involve copious amounts of shit and vomit. No, I will not be seeing Bridesmaids).

Also, as someone who rather likes Diaz and thinks she would be a great comedic actress if given the opportunity, and who *also* rather likes porn that focuses on the man's face when he climaxes, perhaps I'm the wrong person for this review. Look, I'm willing to believe it probably *is* boring and safe in the ways that you describe (esp. if the lead isn't self-deprecating), but since I hold no animosity towards Ms. Diaz and feel so starved for awful female characters who aren't humiliated for their vileness, I'd probably be willing to overlook the movie's faults in a way that others wouldn't be. ("you see a cloud, I see a rainbow, we're both lookin' out the same window."--Damien Lovelock)

i like this comment, because

i like this comment, because it does touch upon that particular factor of the film that I too found refreshing. I liked the choice to have Diaz's character receive little to no societal reprimand for her actions-- if only for the fact that her male counterparts in movies like Apletows (or however its spelled) seem to unquestionably have that privilege. I think for the film to dissect whether or not that's okay just because she's a woman would only serve to reinforce the idea that women "don't act that way".

Also, while she isn't altogether likable, the thing I also enjoyed about this movie was how there was no big, trans-formative moment when Diaz realized she really wasn't a bitch underneath it all, that her self indulgent, abrasive, or sexually elicit behavior were really just walls she'd built up because some years ago her heart was broken blah blah blah....she just was a bitch. and in the end, much in the way of Apetow's aforementioned habit of having his immature protagonist find love with someone who "accepts him for the loser he is"-- Diaz is still basically a bitch in the end, she just finds a guy who likes it for some reason.

don't get me wrong. plenty very wrong with this movie...but flawed women whose flaws aren't portrayed simply as some facade before an internally and inherently perfect female soul just waiting to emerge again once she overcomes whatever bad father/man/relationship made her such a b-word in the first place is something i'd like to see more of. It seems to entertain the radical notion that women can unfortunately just
develop bad habits and be mean and not give a shit because (gasp!) we too, are human beings, capable of doing such things, lady parts aside.

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