DVD Release Date: October 18, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: June 24, 2011
Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, strong language and drug use)
Run Time: 92 min.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, John Michael Higgins, Phyllis Smith, Thomas Lennon, Eric Stonestreet
Aptly titled, there’s nothing to learn or gain from Bad Teacher, with comedy being chief among what’s lacking. So is good taste—though that’s to be expected from the premise—and alas so is wit, style, or anyone that’s actually likeable.
What is the premise? Nothing original, especially if you’re familiar with Bad Santa, a movie that—while equally offensive in content—at least had some semblance of a moral center. This film, however, not only condones immoral behavior but actually rewards it.
The plot is basic: gold-digging English teacher Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz, in a truly grating performance) is a shallow bombshell who loathes her work, has contempt for the good people around her, and puts on a façade in her attempt to become some wealthy idiot’s trophy wife. Her one obstacle? Apparently her breasts aren’t big enough to seduce the kind of fool she’s hoping to dupe, setting her on a mission to raise money for implants. Her solution? Find ways to embezzle money from the school, parents, teachers and students until she reaches her goal, along with some theft and test-rigging for good measure.
Elizabeth wears sexy clothes, drinks and smokes (marijuana, too) on campus, and doesn’t hesitate to use any manner of profanity toward her students. She doesn’t even teach, instead slacking through each class period by playing various inspirational teacher movies (Lean on Me, Stand & Deliver, etc.).
The teachers and principal are generally oblivious to all this, mainly because they’re all played as naïve rubes that live in some antiquated bubble of innocence. They’re trusting to the point of stupidity and, consequently, are actually more insulting to real-life teachers than Elizabeth is. In short they’re uncool, a bunch of squares—not only from Elizabeth’s warped perspective, but even the filmmakers’ (who go so far as to turn the faculty’s highest achieving teacher into the villain).
Broadly played as an adult live-action cartoon, Bad Teacher is painfully desperate for laughs. Its primary modus operandi is shock value, packaged in the usual suspects of pervasive language, drugs and sex. Drop those elements into middle school and suddenly we have something “edgy,” the sad irony being of course that it’s extremely dull and steadily exasperating.
Elizabeth’s sins are legion, but the writers’ and director’s are even more so. The biggest offense of all: in both tone and narrative, the story structure is such that the filmmakers actually want her to pull the whole ruse off, one that employs conduct which isn’t just highly immoral but actually illegal. This leads to the biggest insult to us, the audience, as we begin to realize that the last thing we want—i.e. for her to succeed—is exactly where this movie is headed. We’re left actively rooting against what the director is actively striving for. It’s truly a head-scratcher, even for liberal Hollywood.
The cast (whether you recognize them all or not) boasts a deep bench of proven comics, all of which are subsequently wasted throughout, even demeaned. Each is a clueless caricature both by laziness and necessity; it’s the only way Elizabeth’s con can work. Normally, just a hint of common sense or sophistication would easily see through her shtick, but most everyone here buys it hook, line and sinker. Nobody is like anybody in the real world.
The film presents this as comedy. It’s not. It’s just stupid, as is the basic premise. I mean, how is this woman even a teacher to begin with? How did she get her job? Even more curious, if she’s just biding her time until some desired marital payday then why is she wasting it doing this?! If you’re looking for rich men, the public school system is one of the last places you’d look, let alone spend nine months of your year. It’s brainless, even for a bimbo.
Very late attempts are made to “redeem” Elizabeth, but even those offend, namely when she gives her bra to the class loser so that he can waive it around his friends claiming he “made it” with a high schooler. Now all his geeky shame is washed away in the deceptive glow of being perceived as sexually active. And to top it off, the one “cool” teacher commends her action, saying genuinely, “That was a good thing you did.”
Basically what we have here is an escalating confluence of immoral conduct that we’re either supposed to find funny or even root for, capped off by an extended scene of simulated sex between Diaz and Justin Timberlake that, even as they are fully clothed, plumbs the depths of crudity. It’s an absolute embarrassment.
Bad comedy. Bad morals. Bad acting. Bad writing. Bad directing. Bad Teacher is pretty much bad everything.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Several instances of smoking marijuana, including in front of a student, and one with teachers passing around a joint. Bong hits. Diaz drinks whiskey in class. Another scene of getting drunk at a bar, and putting a roofie in a guy’s drink.
- Language/Profanity: S-word and f-word (and variations of it) said throughout, as are most other common profanities—a-word, b-word, h-word, d-word, etc.—several times said to kids. Diaz also uses frank sexual terms and profanities with some students, including the f-word. The Lord’s name is taken in vain on a few occasions, through multiple expressions. Variations of the “f-word” for homosexual are used.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Strong sexual content, pervasively in language but also visually. Bare breasts are seen and fondled at a plastic surgeon’s office. Crude sexual terms for “breast”. Suck used as a sexual term. F-word used as a sexual reference and expression. The term “hard” is used. A big bulge in a young teen boy’s pants is clearly an erection. Explicit sexual slang for both men and women’s sexual organs. The cover of a porn magazine is seen as it is taken from a student. Cameron Diaz performs sexually provocative moves while dressed in short Daisy Dukes and a small shirt, during a student car wash (also getting wet during the process). Various lewd, sexually graphic phrases are used. A near-naked man in photos. A man makes a crude sexual gesture with his mouth. Diaz takes off her bra underneath her shirt and gives it to a student, and tells him to brag to other students about having been sexually active with another student. Extended scene of simulated sex; the couple is fully clothed, but there are a variety of actions and positions and expressions that are pornographic and illicit in nature (and also includes dirty sexual talk).
Violence: Diaz throws a dodgeball at several students, hurting them.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at icantunseethatmovie.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."