Bad Santa with a gender twist and a change of profession.
Comparisons with Bad Santa were perhaps inevitable. There’s the similarities in the title, of course, plus we’re another profession in which the eponymous ‘hero’ finds themselves in close contact with children. The key difference is that Bad Teacher also provides a gender twist – it’s Cameron Diaz in the lead role, not Billy Bob Thornton – but ultimately this barely affects the outcome. In both cases the governing factors are a general coarseness, a distinct can’t-be-arsed attitude and a misanthropy that extends far beyond the kids in their care. All of which is well and good for a trailer – two-to-three minutes of Diaz talking about blow jobs or writhing about in hotpants during the school’s annual car wash fundraiser – but is this joke strong enough to sustain a full-length feature?
Bad Santa had plenty in its favour – a fine central performance from Thornton that hinted at some depth; empathetic direction from Terry Zwigoff, a filmmaker known for his sensitive outsider portraits (Crumb, Ghost World); and, most importantly, a very funny script. Bad Teacher, on the other hand, has some fine credentials, though this doesn’t always prove enough. At the helm we have Jake Kasdan, previously responsible for the underrated Walk Hard and a number of episodes on the fondly-remembered Freaks & Geeks. Handling the screenplay Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, both regulars on the American version of The Office and currently deemed a hot enough joint-talent to be working on the forthcoming Ghostbusters III. Meanwhile, Diaz is supported by a range of comedian-types. There’s Jason Segel, whose career is able to balance Judd Apatow movies and the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. There’s Phyllis Smith from The Office’s American incarnation. There’s John Michael Higgins of Christopher Guest’s most recent ‘mockumentary’ features as well as plenty of TV comedy cameos. Also finding smaller roles are former Saturday Night Live performer Molly Shannon, the familiar face of David Paymer and writer/actor Thomas Lennon, who seems to crop up all over the place. Oh, and Justin Timberlake.
Reeling off the various performers is a necessary task as it is through them that Bad Teacher musters its intermittent laughs. Diaz is rarely strong enough to fuel a comedy and so it is here. (Her best work tends to come in the unexpected roles, as per Being John Malkovich or Any Given Sunday.) Once the novelty of her uttering the c-word, or using the likes of Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds and even the first Scream movie as educational tools, has worn off, there’s little else to keep the momentum going. Needless to say the plotting is a mostly perfunctory affair in which Diaz slowly redeems herself over the course of 90-plus minutes, though never fully – slightly cynical, slightly sour comedies being all the rage. The expected romantic entanglements also find a place: rich kid Justin Timberlake is Diaz’s target, thereby ignoring the more loveable figure of gym teacher Segel. As does a rivalry with Lucy Punch’s straight-laced fellow educator. Of course, it turns out she can be just as much of a bitch as Diaz, yet another development that’s as predictable as the rest.
Despite these flaws and shortcomings, Bad Teacher nonetheless moves along at a brisk pace and proves itself inoffensive enough that it’s hardly worth getting upset about. This isn’t bad filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination, just distinctly average. For every momentary spark (Timberlake dry-humping is bizarre enough to raise a smirk in a scene that the BBFC have deemed to contain “strong sex”), there’s an equivalent scene that just doesn’t work (Molly Shannon’s entire cameo is incredibly forced, but then much of her comedy – see, or rather just sample, Superstar – has been pitched at a manic level). Segel strikes the right level, although this should perhaps be expected by a man who can do full-frontal nudity in Forgetting Sarah Marshall but still seem innocuous enough that he wins the lead role in the forthcoming Muppets movie. And interestingly the film doesn’t seem particularly interested in any of the kids, so at least it avoids any mawkish sentimentality that could have crept in. Which, I suppose, is simply a way of saying Bad Teacher could have been worse. But then it also could have been so much better.
Sony are releasing Bad Teacher onto Blu-ray on October 31st. Encoded for all regions the disc comes with a smattering of extras – few of which are actually worthwhile – and a perfectly acceptable transfer. Maintaining the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, here we find an AVC encode that does will with the bright cinematography, one that seems to bump all the colours slightly as though to emphasise the cartoon-ish tone. Detail is strong, as are the contrast levels, and there would appear to be nothing untoward in terms of technical issues. A light grain is also perceptible. The soundtrack comes in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio form, not that the film really needs it. Bad Teacher is dialogue heavy and with that the disc copes perfectly well. Crisp and clear at all times, it also has no problem with the intermittent pop track cropping up. Optional German and Spanish are also available in Master Audio, whilst Catalan speakers get a meagre DD5.1 option. There’s also a host of subtitle options as per your usual Sony release.
The special features look somewhat plentiful when laid out in list form, but there’s actually little here that justifies its existence. There are five featurettes, the longest being just over four minutes in length, which range from various cast and crew members telling us what they think makes a good teacher to three-minutes worth of people telling us how hot Diaz is in the car wash scene. Another espouses the improv talents of John Michael Higgins, whilst the remaining two do forced comedy: a mock-featurette about co-writer Lee Eisenberg’s cameo appearance and an entirely unfunny interview with Timberlake and Segel. More typical ‘extras’ fare is provided by a gag reel (five minutes), outtakes (four minutes) and six deleted/extended scenes each running approximately a minute a piece. There’s also an interactive ‘yearbook’ feature (with an entry for each of the main characters) that proves trying given the general sluggishness of Blu-ray players when it comes to animated menus. Finally, there’s the option to allow the disc to indicate when you’re seeing a particular scene or moment that didn’t feature in the theatrical cut – this being, to quote the packaging, the “new rude cut not seen in cinemas!”.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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