Bad Teacher

Year: 2011
Studio: Columbia
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Gene Stupnitsky/Lee Eisenberg
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins

On the surface this movie looks like it's cut from the same cloth as the recent crop of comedies that are full of swearing and very adult themes and in a lot of ways it is, but it does something very special too.

The laws of Hollywood would normally dictate that Elizabeth (Diaz) end up changed by her experience – a better and nicer person, probably even a happily married woman and mother who doesn't swear any more or scheme, cheat or lie to get her way.

But even though she does follow the playbook by getting the right guy in the end, she stays true to her essential self in all its lazy, profane, cynical glory until the final frame. When she confronts a lovable loser upset because he's professed his love to his crush in public and made a fool of himself, watch what she does. She doesn't exhort to him to be himself and the girl will love him for who he is. She tells him straight that the chick will never be interested in him and that he'll just have to get over it. Then, she takes her bra off to give him so he can pretend to his friends that he's hooked up with a girl and cement a bit of status.

It's a brilliant ploy that works in the story but more importantly, for the movie – keeping Elizabeth's character intact. It's a unique pleasure to have a female lead character who neither begins nor ends as a superwoman, but remains the way we all go through life – hopeful, bumbling, hoping for the easy path and frustrated that it never appears. Going further against the grain, she's not punished by the plot for wanting breast implants to snag a rich guy to take care of her (even though the film stops shot of having her get them), and when she sets up her rival at school (the villain) through devious means there are no repercussions for her. If you look close enough the movie breaks several Hollywood comedy rules like those above. Such an approach deserved a slightly stronger movie, but it's not too much less enjoyable for it.

Because the plot is – while certainly funny – a little bit banal. Elizabeth is a teacher cruising through the school year until she can ditch the job and get her dolt rich boyfriend to give her the high life. But when he dumps her and she loses everything, she's crestfallen to have to go back to school. While not above swearing at the kids (her wisecracks at the overeager girl in the front row are hilarious) or playing movies all day to keep them amused while she goofs off, her strategy is to save enough money to get a boob job so she can snare a rich man, and the good looking but stupid new guy (Timberlake) will do fine.

If she can navigate the passive aggressive bitchiness of colleague Amy (Punch) and the earnest and much smarter attention of the gym teacher (Segel), she might just come out on top.

Diaz has the experience and comic chops to make it easy and even if the plot is a little bit humdrum, she's surrounded by enough talent to make it a funny movie. In all honesty it wasn't trying to be anything else.

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