The Office is one of the best shows on television. While it will be interesting to see how it fares without Steve Carell in the upcoming season, it has firmly cemented itself as one of this decade’s smartest, freshest, hippest comedies. Many things contribute to its success, not the least of which is its sharp writing. Though television shows have many writers, two of The Office’s most celebrated are Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who bring a certain youthfulness and fun to each episode they write. They’re so good on that show, one can’t help but wonder why their cinematic endeavors are so abysmal. Despite having the comedic talents of Jack Black and Michael Cera, 2009’s Year One managed to disgust and appall without ever actually entertaining and their newest film, Bad Teacher, follows suit. It’s cruel, heartless and unfunny. It’s a movie that disrespects itself, the audience and the art of filmmaking. It’s a cinematic shamble with a thin plot and even thinner characters. And yes, it’s one of the worst so far this year.
Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth, a gold digging teacher who has just been dumped by her wealthy fiancé. Upset that she just lost her money (but not so upset about losing the man), she begins to chase after substitute teacher Scott, played by Justin Timberlake, who is also blessed with riches. He’s the unassuming type, however, and doesn’t give into her come-ons. In her vanity, she decides a breast enhancement will fix her problems and will do anything she can to gather up the money she needs for the operation, though her admirer, P.E. teacher Russell, played by Jason Segel, insists she’s perfect the way she is.
Let’s just call that plot (though “plot” may not be the right word to describe a movie about a girl raising money for a boob job) what it really is: a vehicle for sweetheart Cameron Diaz to be as vulgar as possible. You’ll get to hear her say things that, and I’m confident about this, you’ve never heard her say before. She is clearly embracing the uncensored nature of her character and having fun with it. Unfortunately, shocking language does not always equate with comedy. Never has that been more apparent than in Bad Teacher.
The reason behind its comedic emptiness stems from the fact that Elizabeth is one of the most wretched, hateful characters to appear onscreen in quite some time. She treats her co-workers like scum and her students even worse. She shows up to class hung-over and drugged out, swindles her kids’ parents out of money and, fearful of having to face the consequences of her own selfish actions, sabotages another teacher who is rightfully suspicious of her and concerned about her students’ academic futures. I get that the premise of the film, as suggested by the title, is inherently mean-spirited, but it’s a premise without comedic value.
Some movies with such despicable characters have a narrative arc that leads to a late movie redemption. Bad Teacher provides the redemption, but forgets the arc. For its entire runtime, Elizabeth cares about nobody but herself before suddenly having a change of heart, realizing that perhaps money shouldn’t be her prime motivation in a relationship. This moment comes from nowhere and the scenes leading up to it do nothing to establish her actions, yet we’re supposed to find her likable. I don’t suspect many people will.
The most disheartening aspect of Bad Teacher is its wonderful list of supporting players, all of whom are given nearly nothing to do or interesting to say. Thomas Lennon from Reno 911!, Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family and Jerry Lambert from those great Playstation 3 commercials (which, coincidentally, pack more laughs in a short 30 seconds than this entire movie), show up to lend their considerable talents, but they’re all wasted. I suppose you could consider Bad Teacher a sad commentary on the state of our public education system, though you’d really have to be reaching to land on that conclusion (but I guess its defenders need something to argue). Regardless, the film remains vicious, poorly written, boring and, even at a concise 89 minutes, exhausted and drawn out.
Bad Teacher receives 1/5