Thursday, June 7, 2012

Enjoyable, but where was the Van Halen? Bad Teacher

It's a rare day in Hollywood if a woman is said to be getting better with age, but it's happening to Cameron Diaz. Either that, or her voice has gotten wonderfully lower and she's choosing better roles (along with a killer wrinkle cream that keeps her looking no where near thirty-eight). Bad Teacher is the sort of film that like Billy Madison or Summer School, is at its core silly nonsense, but is filled with enough heart and well-written comedy that you start to love it despite its crude, inappropriate nature. And despite the fact that Diaz's character is mostly unappealing for the entire film, it would be remiss for me (previously not-a-fan) to fail to acknowledge that even considering such distaste, Diaz's performance made the film a lot of fun.
Bad Teacher, directed by Jake Kasdan and co-written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (The Office, Year One) is the story of Elizabeth Halsey, a recently dumped, foul-mouthed English teacher who really doesn't want to work. At all. Forget the fact that her seventh grade class is composed of the most unrealistically well-behaved students ever assembled or that the rest of the friendly (albeit McGoo) teaching staff genuinely tries, time after time, to engage with her---she's just lazy, rude, and unmotivated. The silly nonsense angle comes when Elizabeth decides that a pair of breast implants might just give her the edge she needs to snag herself another fiancee, and suddenly she decides to use her connections as a teacher (car wash fundraiser, tutoring, test award bonuses) to get the ten thousand dollars she needs for the operation. 
While not exactly becoming or at all realistic where professional educators are concerned, the teacher characters were interesting and well-written. Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is Elizabeth's across-the-hall neighbor who seems better suited for Kindergarten than middle school; Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) is an older, soft spoken woman with whom Elizabeth commiserates over her cash flow problems. Almost stealing the show out from under Diaz are Jason Segal as Russell Gettis, a gym teacher, and Justin Timberlake as substitute Scott Delacorte. While the hip, smooth-talking Russell argues with a student over LeBron James's inferiority to Michael Jordan, Scott, wealthy but awkward, gyrates and sings terribly to 867-5309/Jenny at the school dance, and surprise----Timberlake plays drippy amazingly well! Elizabeth's overall inappropriateness was really well-balanced between Russell and Scott, and both characters added their own specific brand of comedy to the film. A lot of banter over on IMDB seems to indicate viewers having problems with casting, but considering the fact that again, this was a film focused around breast implants (and perhaps secondarily, booze and drugs), the actors couldn't have been better or more comfortable---they knew what they were doing.

One of the most memorable scenes of the film comes just after Elizabeth discovers the lucrative potential of the annual car wash and decides to boost profits by getting involved, herself. Armed with a hose and clad in a tied-up flannel, daisy dukes, and heels, she drapes, flails, and sprays herself over a parked car while the group of junior high boys (not to mention their fathers) looks on, utterly entranced. The soundtrack, Whitesnake's Here I Go, Again, was an excellent bit of nostalgia, although probably wasted on anyone born after 1990 (but nicely played all the same).

And while we're on the topic of luscious eighties rock bands, I refuse to believe there wasn't a way to fit Hot For Teacher in there somewhere, preferably the end credits. Had it in fact happened,
at least one person in the audience would have given it a hollering standing ovation.