In Bad Teacher, a breezily crude comedy about unladylike pleasures like guzzling booze, swearing at children and being mean because, well, you can be, Cameron Diaz taps into her inner thug. It’s a beautiful thing. 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), 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.
Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and directed by Jake Kasdan, the movie is high-concept low comedy and as pared down as a haiku: a beautiful woman, without an apparent conscience, wreaks havoc. There’s no hint of how nasty Diaz, or rather her character, Elizabeth, can be when you first see her tucked into a dreary field of other middle-school teachers, standing out like a yellow rose. With thorns.
It’s the last day of class and she’s out of there forever, peeling out in a sports car that takes her right back home to the meal ticket she calls her fiance. But before she can cash that ticket he’s gone, leaving her stranded and forced back into teaching, a profession for which she’s so constitutionally unsuited it borders on the criminal.
Photo Courtesy of BVI
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. There’s also the black bra that she whips off in inappropriate and possibly illegal circumstances along with the airline-size bottles of hooch she keeps tucked in her classroom desk. About all she doesn’t do wrong is sleep with her students, though that may be because she’s too busy narrowing her sights on the only prospect in view, a new teacher, Scott (Justin Timberlake), a bore with family money who wears bowties without irony. So she smiles, battles a rival, Amy (Lucy Punch), and ignores a more suitable love interest, Russell (Jason Segel).
That more or less takes care of the story though there’s more for your pleasure, notably an entertaining, smartly cast crew of professional funnymen like John Michael Higgins, as a principal with a dolphin fetish, and Thomas Lennon, as a school official who becomes a bump in the road that Elizabeth flattens. Timberlake does a nice job playing a Poindexter, mostly by flipping his sexyback reputation — as he has done on Saturday Night Live — and letting himself look the fool (by, among other things, singing a maladroitly rhymed ditty called Simpatico off-key). The affable Segel does what he often does, which is win you over with nice-guy appeal and a lazy smile that says, oh yeah, we could have fun together.
Mostly, though, there are the funny women, among them Punch, a British actress with a spot-on American accent and crack timing who hasn’t registered in movies until now but who could be a star. It’s a stealth performance that hums along with quiet menace before going to Defcon 5, a blowout that the Gumby-limbed Punch accomplishes with mad eyes and an eruption of facial tics.
Photo Courtesy of BVI
Punch and the wonderful Phyllis Smith (from the American version of The Office), as Lynn, Elizabeth’s dithering, sweetly befuddled pal, give Diaz terrific support. The story spends the requisite time on Elizabeth’s man-baiting and chomping ways, but it’s her relations with these women that help make Bad Teacher into something more than the latest in big-screen giggles and flatulence.
A funny woman with too many unfunny movies on her resume, Diaz was born too late for the kind of rich Hollywood career she deserves. (Howard Hawks might have done her right.) These days she’s best known for voicing Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies and maybe just being Timberlake’s ex (and A-Rod’s squeeze). She’s had great moments, including in her best films, There’s Something About Mary and Being John Malkovich, and she was sweetly absurd dancing around in her panties as one of Charlie’s Angels. It’s painful, though, watching her slum through What Happens in Vegas, playing off an unworthy foil like Ashton Kutcher, another reason it’s a relief to see her surrounded by the talent packed into Bad Teacher.
Kasdan isn’t a sparkling visual stylist, but he does some things just right. He’s particularly adept at distilling the movie’s concept into single hieroglyphic-like images, as when Elizabeth, wearing sunglasses, races her car in reverse with a cigarette stuck in her hard, hard mouth or slumps in her teacher’s chair in a hangover fog, looking for all the world like the love child of W.C. Fields and Lorelei Lee.
With Bridesmaids still doing gangbusters at the box office in the US, Hollywood apparently thinks it’s time for the ladies to get their hands and other parts dirty. Well, if that’s what it takes to get women out of the house, off the pedestal and into the same serious comedy club where the boys frolic and play, I say let her rip.
DIRECTED BY: Jake Kasdan
STARRING: Cameron Diaz (Elizabeth Halsey), Justin Timberlake (Scott Delacorte), Lucy Punch (Amy Squirrel), John Michael Higgins (Principal Wally Snur), Jason Segel (Russell Gettis), Phyllis Smith (Lynn Davies), Thomas Lennon (Carl Halabi), Molly Shannon (Melody), Eric Stonestreet (Kirk), Dave (Gruber) Allen (Sandy Pinkus), Matthew J. Evans (Garrett Tiara), Kaitlyn Dever (Sasha Abernathy)
RUNNING TIME: 92 Minutes
TAIWAN RELEASE: Today
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