I watched the movie Bad Teacher on DVD. A few thoughts:
- The movie is laugh-out-loud funny. Even watching it alone, as I did. Cameron Diaz's portrayal of a shameless goldigger / deadbeat middle school teacher barely phoning it in subverts all the education movie clichés about caring teachers that challenge and motivate their students. Instead, Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey spends the first semester showing these movies while she sleeps at her desk.
She finally finds her niche though:
The following year (SPOILER ALERT) she becomes the school guidance counselor, with all the school’s nerds lining up outside her office, presumably seeking similar transformation.
- The movie is politically incorrect, an observation Steve made in his reviews. The old-money SNAG* (Justin Timberlake) that Diaz seeks to ensnare is, like most SWPLs, a dilettante in diversity, holding up his taste in ethnic food as a bold political statement; this is subtly mocked by Jason Siegel’s cynical gym teacher. Diaz’s vanquished rival is ultimately sent to “bring my zany energy to the underprivileged students at Malcolm X Middle School.” The audience doesn’t even need to have explained to them the implications.
- The movie is dirty. Diaz emits a steady stream of vulgarity as in the clip above, plus there are a couple of truly cringe-inducing sexual situations (if you can call them that).
- The movie is, at a philosophical level, a little disturbing. Diaz is lazy, promiscuous and conniving; a liar, a thief and a cheat. With the exception of the scene above (and even this is obviously not without its moral downside) she shows absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever . . . and yet she is the character we are asked to root for! On comic value alone we are expected to cheer as she blackmails silence from the bureaucrat from whom she steals the state’s standardized test and then frames fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) for her own drug use. What makes this worse is that Amy is a inspirational and successful teacher whose students routinely outscore the entire school on that standardized test. Now, Amy’s sing-song, affected pedagogical style is easily recognizable from my own childhood, and the comic effect comes from seeing her use that style – probably more appropriate to a lower elementary school context in any case – in her adult interactions as well. Still, she (and Justin for that matter) clearly try really hard at being good at what they do, so why are we supposed to hate her and love Diaz? The movie never really explains this.
* Is SNAG still a separate personality type from emo? Or maybe I’m dating myself; I haven’t heard it used since the ‘90s.