DVD Review: The R-rated comedy Bad Teacher starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, and Justin Timberlake is full of darkly funny performances from its leads and supporting cast. Parental Warning: It’s also an accurate X-ray of the very un-PC things running through the repressed id of your child’s educator.
Cameron Diaz is our titular Bad Teacher: Elizabeth Halsey, a manipulative opportunist who plans to only teach middle school English for one year to make herself more altruistically presentable to her future (rich) husband. When her wealthy fiancé wises up to Liz’s shallow, spendthrift awfulness and dumps her, financial necessity forces her back to the classroom for a second year.
Liz bitterly intends to pass that year with little effort and lots of classroom movies (the selection of which is one of the film’s many hilarious, spot-on touches). Instead she focuses her attention on self-improvement–that is saving money to buy breast implants to better land another rich beau.
She also sets her sights on super-sensitive substitute teacher Scott (Justin Timberlake), who just happens to be loaded with family wealth. Tripping up her gold-digging ambitions is goody two-shoes teacher Amy Squirrel (the great and grand Lucy Punch) who says (horrifyingly realistic) things like “ready to get your teachin’ on?” and balks at Liz’s slatternly ways and slothful educational methods. Watching from the sidelines with wry amusement and lug-headed lust is Jason Segel’s sarcastic gym teacher, himself not much more invested in the job than Liz.
Diaz is fearless with Liz’s sullen snarkiness, and Segel nicely, lazily hangs back and sinks one three-point comedic drop in after another. John Michael Higgins never met a pompous authority figure (like the school’s principal) he couldn’t fill with pitch-perfect blustering incompetence, and The Office’s Phyllis Smith proves that her terrific wilting-whiner comedic skills translate to the big screen.
(Thomas Lennon swings by to offer his usual hilarious support, and yes, that’s Modern Family’s MVP Eric Stonestreet playing fantastically against type as Liz’s biker roomie.)
Timberlake’s demonstrated solid comedy skills on SNL, but while the overly earnest, dopey, caring teacher is a real creature, the actor plays Scott just a smidge too archly cartoonish—a more seasoned film comic would have pulled it back before it tipped into caricature. (Still, JT’s make-out scene with real-life ex Diaz is a riot of un-sexy stupidity.)
Best of all is Punch, a manic British comedienne whose praises I’ve sung since last year’s Dinner for Schmucks and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Punch has wide-eyed vaudeville chops, and I love how she runs at roles (like the perky, idealistic, possibly deranged Amy Squirrel) with her crazy barely clinging to the rails.
As a former high school English teacher and someone deeply proud and respectful of my former colleagues and their profession, I can say with absolute certainty that every inappropriate, disturbing transgression and act of incompetence, callous indifference, or outright cynicism in Bad Teacher is accurate—if not always in action, then definitely in thought. Hung-over movie days, Parents’ Night BS tap dances, teachers’ loathing of extra-credit grubbers, and all the profane comments dreamt of while paper-grading: terrifyingly, hilariously dead on.
Written by The Office‘s Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg and directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard), Bad Teacher may not be a fully realized triumph of the form, nor is it a big belly-laugher—it wrings low-key, sneering (and definitely dirty) humor from its characters and actors’ delivery, not over-the-top outrageousness.
Bad Teacher‘s grade-A comic cast offers up a buffet of humor, each of them stepping up to deliver a laugh when needed. At both its most mean-spirited and dry deadpan Bad Teacher is very funny (even funnier on a second viewing), and as every class clown knows, that goes a long way.
Bad Teacher is available on DVD and Blu-ray from redbox.
More from the cast of Bad Teacher at redbox:
- Cameron Diaz in The Green Hornet on DVD and Blu-ray and Shrek Forever After on DVD and Blu-ray
- Jason Segel in Gulliver’s Travels on DVD or Blu-ray and Despicable Me on DVD and Blu-ray
- Justin Timberlake in The Social Network on DVD and Blu-ray and Yogi Bear on DVD and Blu-ray
- Lucy Punch in Dinner for Schmucks on DVD and Blu-ray and Take Me Home Tonight