Not many of you should become teachers, my
brothers and sisters, for you know that we who
teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Old James could have been writing directly to Elizabeth Halsey in what many are acclaiming to be a very good summer comedy. My companion and I at the screening felt otherwise—Bad Teacher, Bad Movie!
There are some funny moments in it, and Cameron Diaz and Lucy Punch are enjoyable to watch as rival teachers with very different approaches to their students, but even though I realize that this is supposed to be a black comedy, it just seemed too disconnected from morality and reality for me. Guess my stint years ago as a substitute teacher and my love for the teacher genre movie got in the way.
In director Jake Kasdan’s (Walk Hard) popcorn movie Elizabeth Halsey says Goodbye to her fellow teachers at the end of the school year and takes off fast in rear gear, almost crashing into the school bus, so eager to get away that she does not want to take the time to turn around. The gold digger has her claws into a rich playboy, but her fiance is so upset with her using his credit cards to buy expensive clothes and jewelry that he brings along momma to break off their engagement. Badly in need of cash because of her extravagance, she is forced to take in a jerk to help pay her rent. In the fall Elizabeth is back at school, but with an attitude so bad that she should not be allowed within a block of any school.
Rebuffing the proffered hand of friendship from the teacher across the hall, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), Elizabeth shows old inspirational teacher movies to her class while she sleeps at her desk (and embibes when she is awake). This goes on and on, with never the principal stepping in to observe how she is doing. She also schemes to raise $10,000 for the breast implants that she thinks will win her a new lover. When new teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) reveals that he is heir to a fortune, she starts wooing him, while fending off Russell (Jason Segal), the slacker gymn teacher who has his sights on her. To fill up her kitty for breast implants she steals and pawns the school’s lost and found items; weedles her way into heading up the school car wash so she can embezzle some of the proceeds (and in a skimpy outfit soak herself while using her body as a chamois, recalling the car wash scene in Cool Hand Luke); uses sex to obtain the answers to the state tests so that she can prepare her students to ace them; and so on.
Thus for us to dislike her rival Amy Squirrel, that teacher must be nasty indeed—and in a delightful way actress Lucy Punch injects such a mixture of condescending sugary sweetness and spiteful venom into her character that she is a more nasty character than Elizabeth, but not by much. Amy keeps going to the principal with her complaints against her rival, but the results, truly funny, are not what she expects. There is a halfhearted attempt at the conclusion to show that Elizabeth has changed for the better, but not much—certainly not in any moral sense. I can accept films that end on a note of moral ambiguity—Woody Allen’s thought provoking Crimes and Misdemeanors is a prime example—but when it is obvious that the filmmaker shows a character escaping from any consequences of her immoral actions, and wants us to root for her, that is too much, at least for this movie goer. Speaking of consequences, it is scary to see what position Elizabeth will hold at the school in the new school year! Shades of Mark 9:42!
You are on your own for one of the few films I’ve seen that isn’t worth seeing or discussing.