Anti-Glee comedy delivers low-brow laughs

Cameron Diaz stars in Bad Teacher

 

Although far from ideal, Bad Teacher clearly has a good idea of what makes low-brow comedies work. There is also a core of talented performers to sell its scuzzy message that being nice basically sucks. In short, this anti-Glee portrait of junior high school life avoids the dunce cap but fails to make the honour roll.

A revved-up Cameron Diaz stars as Elizabeth Halsey in the eponymous role of an amoral, lazy-to-the-bone teacher who has only been treading water in her job until her scheme of marrying a rich guy and spending his loot comes to fruition. But then her fiancé realizes she’s just a gold-digger and dumps her flat. Suddenly out in the cold, she returns to her school job the next year with an even worse attitude than before. Rather than teach English literature she shows Hollywood movies about inspirational teachers to her students — in between either ignoring or abusing them or simply sleeping off the hangover from last night’s booze-up.

Her life suddenly comes back into focus when a new teacher shows up in school. Although the nerdy Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) dresses in bad plaid and is an emotionally wet puppy recovering from a nasty breakup, he is also the heir to a fortune. This is all the encouragement Elizabeth needs and she sets about recalibrating her man-seeking missiles — quite literally, in this case, as she is desperate to get breast implants.

Unfortunately, the surgery is going to cost $10,000 that she doesn’t have. And thus the plot begins to chug happily along as Elizabeth launches a series of get-rich schemes.

As Elizabeth pursues her goals with memorably trampy panache, she arouses first the suspicions and then the enmity of an “inspirational” teacher across the hall. Perky when she isn’t being sucky, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, Dinner For Schmucks) keeps trying unsuccessfully to rat Elizabeth out to the school’s principal, a doofus whose only passion in life is dolphins. Soon, Elizabeth and Amy are fighting for Scott’s affections. And then, when cash-strapped Elizabeth hears that there is a $5,000 award for the teacher whose students bring in the best test scores in the state — an achievement very close to Amy’s heart — the rivalry between the two goes from spiteful to very nasty indeed.

Teacher is more than funny enough to get a passing grade. Diaz, a star who isn’t really an actress, has more than enough awareness of her persona to inhabit the character of Elizabeth with an abundance of wickedly self-serving glee. (And to the script’s credit, Elizabeth goes through a bit of a character arc while hardly wavering in her commitment to being shamelessly self-absorbed.) Timberlake and Punch bring lots of shading to their characters, while several of the supporting actors also do fine work. Funny without being too needlessly vulgar, this movie will be a fine conclusion to a day spent baking your brains at the beach. M

 

bad teacher  ★★¾

Continues at the Odeon & SilverCity

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