Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bad Teacher (2011)

Man Eater

Within its first fifteen minutes, Bad Teacher springs a refreshing premise upon us—that of a sorta teacher romance story---then oddly just allows the pieces to unravel without much direction thereafter. There’s no denying Cameron Diaz (There’s Something about Mary, Gangs of New York) great moments but director Jake Kasdan’s (Zero Effect, Orange County) clumsy overreach is a constant sour point whenever things start to get clever. Even the film’s poster shows up this flaw: Elizabeth (Diaz) preciously slinking behind dark shades, with just the right levels of deliciousness, only for an ‘eat me’ post-it on a red apple defeating her cutesy purpose.

As the film begins, she thinks she’s done with teaching forever so she wears a stunning yellow dress on the last day, smiles broadly and speeds away in her car with a loud ‘adios, bitches’. It’s a memorable last line but sadly for her it comes back to sting immediately. She arrives home to find her fiancĂ© and his mother waiting for her. It is a bad sign made worse with her forgetting that it’s his birthday. Thus caught out by a simple thing she offers to sign a pre-nuptial then informs them she’s pregnant. It’s a cheap, desperate ploy and she only gets cast out from the luxury she’d gotten used to as just reward. With no other choice around, Elizabeth returns to James Adams Middle School (J.A.M.S) to plot her next move.

That oddly enough means securing ten thousand dollars for a boob job. At first she tries to guilt her ex to pay for it then, in a terribly funny bit, asks her roommate. These moments of distress allow Diaz’s comedic talents to shine and when she learns that the teacher with the best overall student grade gets a bonus of nearly six thousand dollars, she goes into overdrive. Sadly, so too does the script written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. We get, at best, a mixed bag as Elizabeth’s twin aims become more convoluted and less funny.

Not that the film gives her a set-up fit for someone who appears ever the clever schemer: for starters, it took her a whole year to finally get the boyfriend to propose and it took an even bigger schemer (a male parent) to trip her unto an extra-lesson plan that could potentially bring in extra dough. Nor is she cynically practical. Most women would wait until they’ve secured the ring before quitting their day job but instead Elizabeth comes across as impetuous and rash…the antithesis of what she’s supposed to be. Diaz is the reason why it works any at all and the film pays very little detail to anybody else, which plays into stereotype with varying degrees of success and rancor. Thus we’re left with more questions than answers about Elizabeth. For example, how exactly did she end up in teaching when there are far more viable or quicker ways to climb up the social ladder?

Elizabeth is the typical American: using a job as a stepping-stone to something else. In this case, it isn’t a more rewarding job but to land a husband who’ll take care of her financially. Her cynicism towards the children is harsh but she’s well aware of the happy-fake level needed to operate within her realm. She even witnesses it among her own students and allows it to play out without much interference.

Kasdan however interferes too much; it’s not enough that Elizabeth has to deal with being alone but there’s a drinking and drug problem too. We never witness the beginning of her manipulative streak, thus the implication is that it’s an innateness that affects all women. Unlike the recent Bridesmaids though, Bad Teacher shoots through the smokescreen of love and feelings and gets right down to the more sinister issue of human property. For that’s how Elizabeth and her rival, Amy (Lucy Punch) view men here (through their battle for Scott, played boringly by Justin Timberlake).

Kasdan stumbles upon this darkness within both women then backs off in hope that slapstick magic will occur. It doesn’t because both are so steeped in their own game that you see the elimination of one of them long before it happens. What is less clear is how everyone else will pan out in their own miserable lives once the drama between the two divas finally concludes. The initial focus---that of the real plastic image women use as they make their way into the world of potential husbands—has been long lost since Elizabeth started to assess her own superficiality and attraction to, gasp, the penniless gym teacher, Russell (Jason Segel). He, at least, doesn’t mind the lack of silicone in her chest.

RATING: 6/10

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