Ken Harrison 11:30 a.m., Dec. 26
Review: Bad Teacher
Cameron Diaz has always been a game actress, the pretty girl who still played along with the boys when things got gross. But in Bad Teacher, she stops playing along and starts playing against - "Anything you can say, I can say bluer." The tone is set early, as she strides into her rich fiancee's home hollering, "Get yourself hard, because I am going to suck your dick like I'm mad at it!"
She never gets the chance: he dumps her for being an obvious gold digger, but not before delivering a silly speech about the importance of opera that goes on long after it stops being funny. The dumping sends her back to her job as a (bad) teacher, and the speech lets us know the film's approach to humor: if something is funny, more of it is funnier.
Case in point: the raunch. Diaz is ready to throw down, y'all - again and again and again, until you beg for mercy. (Or yawn. Whichever.) When a shy coworker admires the way a man's eyes sparkle, she shoots back, "I want to sit on his face." When another co-worker says she hopes they can be more than just co-workers, she replies, "I don't know what you heard, but I don't eat muff pie." Because sex = comedy, and so more sex = more comedy. A dozen shots of middle-aged dudes leering at Diaz as she soaps up at the junior high car wash isn't enough; the film needs to cap it off with a 13-year-old's jumbo erection. Otherwise, you might not get the joke. The trend reaches its high/low point during a prolonged dry-humping scene that asks us to laugh at just how long it takes Justin Timberlake to jizz in his pants. (Cue Lonely Island track here.)
I think Bad Teacher wants me to like Diaz and her smutty sass. But it goes out of its way to make her frank sexuality into something nasty, glopping on enough eyeliner and cherry-red lipstick to turn her into a sneering MILF clown, a parody of the archetypal hot teacher. Plus, she's a bitch.
Maybe I'm just not up on the finer points of bitch comedy, but if I'm going to laugh at (let alone root for) a bitch onscreen, I need her to revel in her bitchiness. I need it to be her glory - think Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. At the very least, I need to feel like her bitchiness is a choice: the world has done her wrong, and she is going to do wrong right back. But if the bitch is just mean and vapid - well, then, I don't find her willingness to tell a little girl that her homemade cookies suck whimsical. I find it tiresome. Especially after an hour or so. Yeah, we get it, you're willing to speak truth to...children? (This actually serves as a major story point, so I guess it's worth mentioning.)
Diaz has an enemy in this film, but it's an enemy entirely of her own making, a genuinely decent person driven 'round the bend by our heroine's evil bitchiness. And even that would be tolerable if the film was willing to go as black in its comedy as say, the British war comedy In the Loop. But this isn't England; it's Hollywood, and if this is a comedy, there must be a happy ending. So our bitch has to win, whether or not she repents of her wicked ways. Bad Teacher hopes that it's enough that she broadens her sexual horizons.
ALL THAT SAID, there are a fair number of funny moments, and Diaz's chemistry with the persistently randy gym teacher played by Jason Segal is genuine bordering on sweet. It's almost enough to make a body forget that for five-sixths of the film, the story is driven by a woman's desire to score $10,000 so that she can buy good enough tits to nab a sugar daddy.