Friday, June 24, 2011

Hilarious Previews, Mostly Average Film, Bad Teacher Is Fun, But Not Much More.

The Good: Some very funny moments, Clever writing at key points, Decent acting.
The Bad: Previews ruined most of the best moments.
The Basics: While I enjoyed Bad Teacher, I wish the best parts had not been ruined by the many, many, many trailers for the film and recognize that it comes out at a slightly above-average movie.

This summer, there are very few films that my wife and I have been actually eager to see together. She likes comedies, I’m more of a drama buff, we both love science fiction and fantasy. So, it was my wife who was truly clamoring to go see Bad Teacher and the only surprise for me was that it took us until the evening on opening day to see it (my wife having suffered from a bout of insomnia the night before, she crashed around 10 A.M. and wasn’t active until a five o’clock showing). Bad Teacher is not a cure for insomnia and is a largely enjoyable movie, but one which makes me wish, yet again, that those who make previews would just stop when they are ahead.

Bad Teacher is a perfect example of how, in their zeal to advertise, movie promoters absolutely ruin movies. When we saw the first preview trailer for Bad Teacher, my wife turned to me and said, “Put it on your list; we’re going to see that one!” Then we went on vacation and watched Comedy Central and saw at least three different commercials for the movie. Then, we saw Bridesmaids (reviewed here!) and there was a whole new trailer with more of the jokes in it. And that completely gutted the experience of watching the movie in the theater whole new trailer with more of the jokes in it. And that completely gutted the experience of watching the movie. I can understand, for example, trading on the sex appeal of Cameron Diaz by teasing the car washing scene. But the punchline to that scene, one of the dads suggesting there ought to be a car wash every weekend, should have been the icing on the cake and because I – and millions of others – knew it was coming from the previews, much of Bad Teacher feels too familiar.

Bad Teacher is a comedy focusing on Elizabeth Halsey, a woman giving up teaching to marry a man who is financially able to keep her. But when she returns home at the end of the school year, she finds her fiancé and his mother waiting and their engagement called off because his mother thinks Elizabeth is just in the relationship for the money. Forced to return to John Adams Middle School the next school year as a result, Halsey is surly, malcontent and keeps her coworkers and her students at a great emotional distance, especially the gym teacher, Mr. Gettis.

Enter Scott Delacorte, a young new substitute teacher who is at JAMS because he actually loves teaching. Wealthy, he instantly attracts Halsey’s eye and she sets out to snag him. But her professional nemesis, Amy Squirrel, actually connects with Delacorte and Halsey’s ambitions revolve around her raising money for breast augmentation surgery. But when her friend, the timid Ms. Davies, lets her know that the teacher whose students perform best on the state’s standardized test gets a significant bonus, Halsey turns toward trying to actually teach her students. And, discovering they aren’t all that bright and teaching them is hard work, Halsey sets her sights on getting the test and thus the bonus and thus her new breasts.

Bad Teacher works, when it does, because it is genuinely funny. The writers, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and director, Jake Kasdan, are smart enough to shake up the familiar formulas with some decent character moments and good acting, but for the most part, the movie relies on being laugh-out-loud funny. It achieves its biggest laughs through gross-out humor, swearing and pot-smoking moments; at least those are the moments that stuck out because they weren’t in the innumerable previews. Kasdan and his team are successful at getting the laughs.

But what was most memorable about Bad Teacher was that the characters were generally smart enough to be interesting when they weren’t likable in any real way. So, for example, Halsey is an antagonist through most of the movie, but she is initially characterized as resourceful and smart. This is maintained throughout the movie, despite her being strangely stupid-enough to not dispose of all of the incriminating evidence against her, and so her journey is supposed to be more of an emotional one. Without spoiling any aspect of Bad Teacher, it is refreshing to see that when she has the opportunity to take the easy emotional way out, she has enough self-respect not to.

Similarly, Mr. Gettis is likable because he expresses interest in Halsey, but refuses to be a simple rebound guy for her. This is one of the better roles for Jason Segel and his few scenes in the movie allow him to play deliciously dry sarcasm and a wit that his other roles do not usually give him liberty to enjoy. Similarly, Halsey is one of Cameron Diaz’s better parts and she is lethargic in the role in such a way that perfectly embodies the nasty title character of the movie. Diaz plays off Lucy Punch’s Squirrel masterfully, sapping the energy Punch exudes in her scenes whenever possible.

But the real winner here is Justin Timberlake. Timberlake has been a master at playing douchebag characters. For his early acting career, you could have pretty much tattooed a wifebeater on him and he would have been ready for all of the roles. He took that skill to a whole new level in The Social Network (reviewed here!) and he pretty effectively mined that for all it was worth. In Bad Teacher, he goes to the opposite end of the spectrum, playing an alleged good guy. As Scott Delacorte, Timberlake shows that he can play a nice guy, even scoring great laughs with his earnest presentation of him when Gettis illustrates how phony and malleable Delacorte is.

The movie is well-performed and it has a few mild surprises left, but for the most part, once all of the characters are in play, the narrative heads in a pretty linear direction. In virtually every way, Bad Teacher is a comedy we have already seen before.

Last year, I began a new tradition with my wife. After seeing Easy A (reviewed here!), we were both impressed and we had gone into the movie with exceptionally low expectations, mostly from believing that we had seen most of the film already from the previews, and I bought her the Blu-Ray for the winter holiday. I had been hoping that Bad Teacher would be this year’s Easy A and that there would be a great deal more to it that was not in the previews. Alas, that was not the case. But, if you like what you saw in the trailers, there’s that and a little bit more in this matinee-worthy movie.

For other films featuring Cameron Diaz, please check out my reviews of:
The Green Hornet
Knight And Day
Shrek Forever After
Charlie's Angels

For other film reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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