MOVIE REVIEW: Bad Teacher
BAD TEACHER-- 4 STARS
When you think of great movies about teachers, one calls to mind inspirational and moving films with actors and actresses embodying the unbridled dedication, passion, and heart to deal with tough students and tough situations. Look no further than the greats recently outlined on this blog as the "Best Movie Teachers." It's hard not to be inspired and taken aback by real life stories of Dangerous Minds, The Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, and Mr. Holland's Opus. We uncannily watch those movies and think about the great teachers we've had in our lives that have pushed, challenged, and shaped us. Yeah, that's great, but what about all of the terrible teachers we wish would keel over, die, or retire?
That's where Bad Teacher comes in. As a quick example of the movie's self-awareness for the opposite kind of teacher they are going for, on the very first day of school, Cameron Diaz's Ms. Elizabeth Halsey stumbles into class, dismisses some teacher's pet student's cookies, pops in the DVD of Stand and Deliver, and proceeds to cover her head and fall asleep at her desk. Yup, that's the inspiring quality of educator you're going to see. Mr. Holland can kiss her fine ass.
It's from that introduction that things continue to top itself. Ms. Halsey is only back in the classroom because she was dumped by her meal-ticket fiance. She's followed around by a clinger co-worker of sorts in Lynn (The Office's Phyllis Smith) and socially pursued by the cool-guy gym teacher, Russell (the dependably game Jason Segal). Elizabeth is constantly at odds with her go-getter hallway neighbor, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch of Dinner for Schmucks, doing the best she can to make you hate her instead of the incredibly devious Diaz).
Elizabeth does the bare minimum to get by in showing those movies every day in class with zero teaching, but sets her sights on another rich target when Justin Timberlake's Scott Delacorte shows up as a long-term substitute. The straight-laced Scott seems to only like women with a little something extra up front, which drives Elizabeth to do every crooked thing possible to raise money for a boob job. That includes trying to win the $5700 bonus for the highest-scoring teacher in the building on the state test by any means necessary, which means she might actually have to teach.
Now, before I go further, I have to preface that, because I myself am a school teacher, I come at Bad Teacher with a different view and perspective. While the actors and actresses of Bad Teacher are playing very exaggerated archetypes and stereotypes, I personally can channel and envision people I've worked with over the years that embody different aspects and traits of these ridiculous characters. I've worked with the slacker teacher, the naive-virtuous-savior teacher, the glory hog, the drunk teacher, the pot-head teacher, the clueless optimistic, the eternal pessimist, the creepy quiet teacher, the vengeful one-upper, the stickler for the rules, the aloof principal, the dorky principal, and etc.
Because of that, I find all of the wild and zany falsities that Bad Teacher plays out completely hilarious. I find it doubly hilarious that movie is set in my own state of Illinois and features a very ominous ISAT-looking state assessment test that is the bane of the real-life teaching community. Nevertheless, something tells me that the jokes will fall flat for others who aren't teachers or hip to that culture. Think of it similarly to how real police officers laugh at the gross irregularities of cop movies and how we sit there and never get the jokes they do. That's what Bad Teacher is for me and I laughed as much (if not more) at this as I did Bridesmaids earlier this summer.
Bad Teacher was directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Orange County), a director from the Judd Apatow tree (see my review of Get Him to the Greek last year for more on that trend). It's screewriting tandem of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg are graduates of The Office who wrote the abysmal Year One and are currently working on Ghostbusters III. Those resumes alone should tell you where Bad Teacher is going. It's a movie that's not afraid to mix gross-out gags, shock value, and vulgar humor with an odd workplace setting. I'll attest to a school qualifying as an odd workplace setting that can feel like an episode or two of The Office, but, at the same time, defend and assure you that 98% of this movie is preposterously false to real teaching.
The comparisons to Bad Santa are quite fair. Any attempt to be like other teacher movies and make memorable students roles to go with the lead teacher takes a backseat to focusing on an evil Cameron Diaz and her rocking bod. Diaz runs with the chance to play a bitch of a character instead of the usual bubbly-and-ditzy routine that has made her a star. Her Ms. Halsey breaks every rule in the book and never gets caught or sees the error of her ways. If you're expecting a Billy Bob Thornton-grow-a-heart recovery like his character showed in Bad Santa or Bad News Bears, you and your sense of moral movie justice are going to be disappointed. However, if you like the trailer and clips you've been seeing on TV, Bad Teacher will deliver as advertised. Come on, Chicagoans. The LeBron-Jordan argument delivered by Jason Segal is worth it alone.
LESSON #1: SOMETIMES CHEATING AND SEDUCING TO GET YOUR WAY WORKS-- None of us will care to publicly admit it, but we've all gotten away with something in our time thanks to cheating or seduction. I guarantee at least once in our lives, we've looked on our neighbor's paper, looked at an answer key, stole someone's idea, or batted our eyelashes coyly to get our way or get out of trouble. The trick is, of course, to not get caught. Whether we like it or not, these two skills and choices advance people, so long as they are not caught. All of you ladies who have ever sweet-talked, cried, or cleavage-sprung your way out of a traffic ticket from a weak-willed state trooper are as guilty as sin!
LESSON #2: TEACHERS ARE NOT WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE-- While the teachers in Bad Teacher are grossly inaccurate to the real thing, like I said before, some of their character traits still show up in our fine educators. When away from the classroom, teachers are fallible regular adults. Just like the rest of the public, they have their vices and need different forms of stress relief, coping, and outlets to deal with their jobs and lives. Next time you see your son or daughter's teacher at T.G.I. Fridays cut them a break before you call them an alcoholic. They need the same post-work cocktail you do when dealing your kids and their coworkers.
LESSON #3: MOTIVATION AND REWARDS CAN DRIVE EDUCATION-- Whether we like it or not, we all felt either overjoyed or slighted by that infamous sticker chart that the second grade teacher hung in her classroom when we were kids. With the social media distractions kids have these days, teachers have to come up with creative ways to motivate and reward students for achievement and goat setting. Those that do, see results. The teachers also need the same motivation and reward for themselves to break the monotony, pressure, accountability, and the handcuffing government policies that restrict their jobs.