MacGuffin Film Review – Bad Teacher

Film Review – Bad Teacher

Maybe I should open this review with a disclaimer. I work in education. I’m not a classroom teacher, but my days for the last five years have revolved around teenagers, and goals for their “success,” and all that sort of thing. I work with a lot of people who really care about what they do—and so do I. Yet, if you’ve watched videos I’m in or read my articles on this site, it probably won’t surprise you to know that I’m not among the most…how should I say…sunny of the faculty at my school. So perhaps I went into Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher with a slightly different kind of anticipation than some people will. A female-driven comedy that aims to have some fun with the “inspirational educator” genre? Yes, I’ll have some of that.

Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a middle school English teacher who begins the film on the verge of leaving the school she’s been at for just one year, because she’s bagged a rich guy and no longer has to work. As often happens with engagements for money, in the movies and in life, things don’t work out, and she’s back in her class come fall. More unhappy to be there. More disbelieving in her own cruel fate. More inclined to say “fuck it.” And that she does. Opening her first class of the year with the amusing question “Who’s seen Stand and Deliver?”, Elizabeth proceeds to teach a class (and yeah…she seems to teach only the one class…) that consists of days upon days of watching those classic teacher movies. Meanwhile, she reads magazines/naps/has a drink from her secret stash in the false bottom of her desk. You know, the usual.

If at this point you’re wondering why Elizabeth ever even became a teacher, you’re not going to get an answer to that.  For the sake of sympathizing with the character, we must assume that it was an unjust punishment that was thrust upon her at some unsuspecting moment of her life. But there are plenty of people around who don’t seem to think being a teacher is so bad; in fact, all of Elizabeth’s colleagues like their jobs just fine. Some of them LOVE their jobs—like Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), the most conveniently-perfectly-last-named character ever, who, as Elizabeth’s “across the hall mate,” cannot abide by the bad behavior on display. What goes mostly unnoticed by the rest of the faculty becomes Amy’s obsession. She will crush Elizabeth.

The rivalry takes on some extra twists with the arrival of Scott (Justin Timberlake), a new teacher in whom each of the women becomes interested. Of course, Elizabeth only cares about him because she thinks he has family money, while Amy might actually be his match made in heaven, her psycho pep mixing beautifully with his blissful amiability. Our triangle becomes a zig zag when the gym teacher, Russell (Jason Segel), himself a bit more sly and crass than the accepted image of their colleagues, pursues Elizabeth. But we should never forget that Elizabeth’s mission is not to find love—it’s to find money. So the real complications come along when she finds out she has a chance to wring $5700 in bonus cash out of the place (an investment in a boob job that she figures will lead to exponentially more money than that), if only her students perform well on a state exam. Will she take the high road and teach her students to love literature? I’m not sure Elizabeth knows there is a high road. Unless by “high” you mean…

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