I don’t think I’m supposed to like BAD TEACHER, but I do. The film is weak on plot and what it does have plotwise is color-by-numbers formulaic. But none of this should be surprising or even matter given that BAD TEACHER is a light summer popcorn sorta-romantic comedy. What you should be expecting, and what you do get, is foul-mouthed, un-PC potty humor that may not reach the benchmark set by BRIDESMAIDS, but it holds its own as a funny summer comedy. Cameron Diaz has emerged from last year’s Tom Cruise shitfest, KNIGHT AND DAY, and has finally regained our confidence in her comedic abilities.

BAD TEACHER continues Summer 2011’s string of raunchy comedies that began with BRIDESMAIDS and that plans to continue with HORRIBLE BOSSES, 30 MINUTES OR LESS, and others that I can’t think of right now. The bad teacher is Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a lazy, pot-smoking, hard-drinking middle school teacher who dreams of nothing more than getting a boob job so she can attract a wealthy guy and quit her job. The film begins with Halsey quitting her teaching job to marry the man of dreams, a very rich guy who has already bought her a his and hers Mercedes-Benz convertible. Unfortunately for Halsey, her fiancée realizes that she’s only out to get his money and he calls off the wedding. We jump forward 3 months later and Halsey is back to her teaching job, miserable, and having to deal with her pathetic, loser co-workers. Halsey’s dim future seems to brighten when a new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), is hired and Halsey discovers that he’s the heir of a huge watch dynasty. Fighting for Delacorte’s attention, however, is one of Halsey’s co-workers, a bubbly, annoying-as-all-hell teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). At the same time, Halsey is also being pursued by Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), the school’s P.E. teacher, but because he has no money, Halsey doesn’t give him the time of day. Also starring is Phyllis Smith as one of Halsey’s teacher friends.

What makes Cameron Diaz stand out from other Hollywood A-list actresses is that she’s not afraid of looking ugly, acting dirty and raunchy, and generally not looking and acting the part of a hot, sexy Hollywood actress. Sure, Diaz has also played those roles that one would expect from someone with her looks, but where she succeeds is when she plays against type (THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and IN HER SHOES). What’s so great about her character in BAD TEACHER is that she uses her good looks to play up the despicable qualities of her character. She uses her sex appeal to lie, cheat, and steal. For throughout most of the movie, Halsey exhibits zero positive aside from a few foreshadowing moments where she gives life advice to her students. And yet, we still like Halsey because a.) she’s funny and says things that we all think about, but never say and b.) she’s surrounded by more unlikeable characters (except for Jason Segel) that make her appealing in comparison. Cameron Diaz’s character reminded me much of Billy Bob Thornton in BAD SANTA (is calling this film BAD TEACHER coincidental?). Both characters are pretty horrible human beings, but in their harshly honest way, they still manage to use their sorry life experiences to impart guidance to others. Diaz does a fine job balancing all of these traits and it’s a testament to how talented (and underappreciated) she is. BAD TEACHER is one of her best roles in years.

BAD TEACHER lives or falls by Cameron Diaz’s sword, but she is also helped by a great supporting cast. The love interests are played by Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake and additional comedic contributions are made, among many others, by Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith. As good as Diaz is, the supporting cast is what really makes this film shine. All the characters are goofy, eccentric, and unique. They are fully dimensionlized by director Jake Kasdan without resorting to stereotypes or one-joke schticks. I wish we got to see much more of Jason Segel because he steals just about every scene that he is in. It would also have been nice to have established a better and longer set-up of the ultimate romance between he and Diaz. As the film currently plays out, when we reach the film’s climax/resolution, the romance between the two characters appears too suddenly. Timberlake once again proves himself to be a much more talented actor than I think anyone expected of him. Although he’s overshadowed by the comedic talents of the rest of the supporting actors, there are a few great scenes with him (especially one strange sexual encounter with Diaz). Prior to seeing BAD TEACHER, I didn’t know who Lucy Punch or Phyllis Smith were, but now I gladly do. I love the fact that BRIDESMAIDS introduced us to a bunch of great unknown comic actors and now BAD TEACHER has done the same with these two actresses. Their scenes are comic gold and they bring a lot of great dimension and humor to the film.

The comedy in BAD TEACHER is no doubt funny, but it still falls short of the raunchy edge contained in BRIDESMAIDS. Although I was generally entertained and found myself laughing throughout the majority of the film, I kept thinking of how much more the filmmakers could have pushed the envelope. Thankfully, BAD TEACHER avoids clichéd toilet humor and instead manages to provide hilarious one-liners. We can thank the writers of THE OFFICE for using their by-now fully honed comedy writing skills to avoid too many comedy clichés. At the same time, I felt that there was one or two more steps that could have been taken to really up the ante on the hilarity.

All in all, BAD TEACHER is a solid, entertaining comedy that gets great contributions from its supporting cast and especially from Cameron Diaz. The film is a bit thin on plot, but that’s to be expected and forgiven in light of the wall to wall jokes we get at a nice, steady pace. I wish the comedy contained more edge, but what it does present is funny and absolutely hilarious at times. A welcome element to the film is the fact that it doesn’t beat you over the head with the romance between Diaz and Segel. Yes, they fall in love in the end (are you really surprised?), but unlike, say, a Sandra Bullock film, the filmmakers don’t interrupt the comedy to give us romantic scenes between these two characters. The film is solely focused on the comedy and that’s exactly what it should do. What I found to be the most surprising about the story is the lack of any redemption in Cameron Diaz’s character. She gets away with everything she does and although that may offend or turn off some, I found it refreshing to for once not have a character who learns a life lesson by the end of the movie. The filmmakers give some redeeming qualities to Diaz, but on the whole, she remains who she always was and its nice to see the filmmakers not shy away from potentially alienating their audience in this way. So if you’re looking for a tamer version of BAD SANTA, you’re not going to waste your money seeing BAD TEACHER.

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