Friday, September 23, 2011

Movie Review: Bad Teacher is so bad, it’s good

Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher is almost as good as it gets.  Well, it’s not the same beast as Something About Mary, but the humour and plot is full of laugh-out-loud inanity. IMDB summarises the plot as follows: “A comedy centred around a foul-mouthed, junior high teacher who, after being dumped by her sugar daddy, begins to woo a colleague -- a move that pits her against a well-loved teacher.” The well loved teacher is Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Cameron on the other hand plays Elizabeth, a mean, lazy, shallow high school teacher who sees her job and colleagues as way below her.  

I was very iffy about going to watch this, especially since Justin Timberlake is in it, and IMDB gives it just 5.8/10.  My girlfriend twisted my arm, so I went, but with low expectations.  So it seems, did everyone else.  Made with a budget of $20 million, this flick earned all of that back plus $11 million in change, all in its first weekend.  To date it’s taken in more than ten times what it cost to make, and it’s not surprising.  Cameron Diaz is a perfect blend of ditzy, bitchy, the everywoman, the vamp and the tramp.  The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis describes Cameron Diaz here as tapping into her “inner thug.” “It’s a beautiful thing,” Darghis adds. “A performer with a gift for light comedy and a comically ductile face that can work in fascinating counterpart to her rocking hot body (as her character would say), Ms. Diaz has found her down-and-dirty element in the kind of broad comedy that threatens to get ugly and more or less succeeds on that threat.”

From gum spewing in the hallway, smoking dope in her car, and trawling discount liquor stores (all closed) on Christmas day, Diaz presents a pathetically frustrated figure that many of us can identify with.  Although she aspires to busty greatness as the trophy wife of someone who is rich (and therefore tolerable), her living at home reality is poverty-stricken, and grim.  But there is a redeeming quality in Cameron’s Elizabeth.  If she is a lazy loser, it’s not due to lack of motivation, but lack of incentive.  Elizabeth proves a sassy and skilful player of the system when the price is right, and it is this turn of fortune which is riveting to watch.
Dargis calls Elizabeth’s antics harmless, and with the odd exception, they are: “Nothing she does really crosses the line except getting stoned at school and maybe bouncing a ball off the heads of students who don’t answer her questions correctly.”

Punch plays the perfect nemesis to Cameron’s “Bad Teacher”, but the male characters playing opposite Punch and Diaz provide similar contradictions.  Timberlake is a nerdy Mr Perfect, while Jason Segel plays Russell, a podgy but affable gym teacher whom Dargis describes as “someone you could have fun with”. The flick hits the mark because its chock filled with fun without completely losing the plot.  The principal’s dolphin fetish, and Elizabeth eating Christmas dinner at a student’s home (whilst remaining hungrily immune to yuletide merriment) provide glimpses of the depth and backstory at work in Bad Teacher, giving it more than just a veneer of crass comedy.  

But “Bad Teacher” isn’t for everyone, the IMDB score ought to provide fair warning in that regard.  Whilst chilled elements of the cinema audience guffawed throughout, some members of the audience were either appalled or suffering from induced anxiety (“Is this what’s going on at your school?”).  The Princess Fiona magic that Cameron Diaz voiced in Shrek surfaces here, and it’s her talent, wit and charm that infuses the whole flick.  Because of this “Bad Teacher” is her movie and her moment.  

Score: 8/10

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