Review: Bad Teacher (2011)

Synopsis: Some teachers just don’t give an F. Case in point: Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz). She’s foul-mouthed, ruthless, and inappropriate.  She drinks, she gets high, and she can’t wait to marry her meal ticket and get out of her bogus day job.  When she’s dumped by her fiancé, she sets her plan in motion to win over a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake) – competing for his affections with an overly energetic colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch).  When Elizabeth also finds herself fighting off the advances of a sarcastic, irreverent gym teacher (Jason Segel), the consequences of her wild and outrageous schemes give her students, her coworkers, and even herself, an education like no other.

While the premise itself is obviously interesting, and the characters have a great potential to be explored, screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg are too busy trying to shock with crass humour, ridiculous gags and offensive one liners. There are glimmers of hope with a sprinkling of particularly funny moments – mostly to do with Punch’s Amy and her various interactions with Diaz’s Elizabeth – but, due to the inconstant nature in which they unfold, the humour falls flat as quickly as it arrives.

Jake Kasdan’s direction, on the other hand, is surprisingly rich and crisp for a comedy production, adding a pretty gloss that, at times, adequately masks the poorly structured and played out narrative. We’ve seen with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Orange County that Kasdan has huge potential, so it’s a disappointment to see him wasting his obvious skills as a director on such a misguided comedy.

Diaz is unavoidably miscast in the role of Elizabeth. Though she works wonders with the mediocre dialogue, she simply doesn’t have the versatility needed as an actress to pull off the various sides Elizabeth harbours. Sure, she can do the whole sexy, radiant thing, but it’s hard to believe her evil side when you’re aware of how nice she is in real life.

Timberlake tries a little too hard to be the sexy nerd, but he never quite pulls it off. Segel, however, makes a valiant attempt at the sexy rogue, but is thwarted by a lack of screen time. (Yes, there is indeed a theme of “sexy-insert-secondary-character-trait-here” going on throughout.) Essentially, this means that Bad Teacher belongs to Punch, who manages to be almost constantly hilarious as Amy: seemingly nice yet harbouring an insane evil streak. She fills the role with a terrific sense of physicality – so much so that you find yourself wishing she’d switch roles with Diaz purely so she can have more time onscreen.

Ultimately, Bad Teacher is a beguiling and poorly written comedy that shamefully wastes its array of talent. Aside from a few laughs, and a scene stealing turn from Punch, it’s almost entirely insufferable.

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