There’s one word in Bad Teacher’s title that proves accurate, and it’s not the reference to educators. Sadly, the one-note film fails to engage or entertain, relying on viewer fondness for the “bad” premise.
As the son of writer / director Lawrence (Body Heat, The Big Chill) and actress Meg (appearing in her husband’s first four directorial efforts, including Silverado and The Accidental Tourist), Jake Kasdan’s career in filmmaking was virtually assured from birth. After brief appearances in his father’s films as a child, he made his first foray into helming with 1998’s Zero Effect, before spending time in television on teen cult efforts Freaks And Geeks, Grosse Pointe and Undeclared. His second big screen offering came in the form of coming of age comedy Orange County, with the little-seen The TV Set and uneven Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story next on his slate. After a four year absence that has seen just a single episode of Californication added to his resume, Kasdan returns to the cinema with black comedy Bad Teacher.
Proving that not all teachers are role models with her misanthropic ways, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz, The Green Hornet) is content doing the bare minimum in the classroom. With students a mere distraction in her quest for instant gratification, and her colleagues – including over-enthusiastic Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, Dinner For Schmucks) – little more than annoyances, she conserves her energy for finding a man that can take care of her in the evenings by literally sleeping through the school day. After an ugly break-up instigated by her gold-digging tendencies, Elizabeth is convinced that breast enlargement surgery is the answer to finding her next big catch. Forced to bide her time in the education system to earn the cash needed for the operation, she finds ways to get creative with her money-making endeavours, with substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network) set firmly in her sights.
Black comedy is a unique art form, relying on engaging the audience through a particular sense of satirical humour. From Heathers to To Die For and Happiness to Office Space, many films have tried to perfect the balance of amusement and discomfort required of the sub-genre, with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb still held up as best example close to half a century after its release. Bad Teacher is the latest film to attempt the delicate feat, using the context of the assumed safety of the schoolyard to subvert viewer expectations of one of the most trusted professions in our society. Relying upon the juxtaposition of negative traits upon figures normally seen as positive, the script from Year One and the U.S. remake of television sitcom The Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg tries to follow in the footsteps of Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 surprise hit Bad Santa, using mimicry and imitation in everything from the exaggerated behaviour of the trusted protagonist to the first word of the title.
Whilst on paper, employing the same template as a genuinely enjoyable fellow black comedy should incite interest at the very least, the reality of Kasdan’s fifth feature offering is much more dire. From the outset, it is apparent that stereotypes are the name of the game, which is immediately disappointing in a film that sets itself up as transcending obvious categorisations. Instead, all the characters invite rather than defy labels, with Diaz’s money-grubbing, apathetic rebel surrounded by the smarmy colleague (Punch), passionate substitute (Timberlake), earnest principal (John Michael Higgins, Couples Retreat) and jaded gym teacher (Jason Segel, Gulliver’s Travels). The events that unravel as the titular bad teacher rubs her acquaintances and students up the wrong way follow the expected pattern, with initial conflict paving the way for eventual acceptance, albeit of the non-saccharine kind as dictated by the inherent traits of the protagonist. As such, the laughs are few and far between, with Diaz’s unconvincing mannerisms, Timberlake’s shoehorned-in singing and Segel’s admittedly funny one liners forced to carry the feature. From a premise with some promise (even without any semblance of originality), the final product resembles an utter misfire that lacks amusement, audience involvement, or even entertainment value.