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Blu-ray Review: Bad Teacher

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There is a subgenre of comedy which draws much of its humor from shock value.  Here, films have the audience laughing at the same time they think to themselves, “No way, they did not just say that.”  Of course, the characters have in fact said exactly that, but all too often without repercussions.  The trick when making such a film is to be able to string together these humorous moments into a larger tapestry that one will actually want to watch and, if we’re really lucky, truly enjoy.

The Jake Kasdan directed, Cameron Diaz starring, Bad Teacher doesn’t quite make it.  To be sure, the film has plenty of funny moments in it and if crude humor is your thing you’ll find yourself chuckling repeatedly, but it is unable to turn these moments into something more.

In the film, Diaz plays a teacher, Elizabeth Halsey, who has no desire to teach.  No, her only wish is to find a rich husband who will take care of her for the rest of her life.  She actually has someone to fit the bill at the start of the movie, but he wises up and ruins her plans, forcing her—horror of horrors—to teach for another school year.

What had been a one year job threatens to turn into a career, and Elizabeth is forced to associate with the fellow teachers she shunned during her first year .  These include Lucy Punch’s Amy Squirrel, who rapidly grows to hate Elizabeth and Phyllis Smith’s Lynn Davies, who, beyond being relatively meek and a teacher, isn’t given much of a character at all. 

There is also Jason Segel’s Russell Gettis, who, well, one can’t ever quite figure out why he’s a teacher.  There is a scene in which he mentions that his life didn’t turn out as planned, but that’s as close as the film gets to an explanation.

You see, one of the places the film falls down is its desire to not actually tell us about anyone.   Why does Elizabeth choose to keep teaching if her desire is to find a rich husband?  Surely she could find a profession more suitable for that.  Maybe though the school she works at has a high preponderance of single wealthy fathers.  The could be, but it’s never stated, it’s never even hinted at.  It is also never made clear why this woman who looks far closer to 40 than 25 is just now looking for a husband and how she spent her life prior to her starting to teach (which is clearly a relatively new profession for her).  I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong in starting a search at that age, just that for someone who is so gung-ho about it, the notion that it hasn’t come up sooner is a little weird.

Justin Timberlake is in the film a Scott Delacorte, a rich, chaste, substitute teacher.  Elizabeth sets her sites on him, but his character is just as two dimensional as the rest.  How is that Scott is rich?  Why is he substituting?  It is never made clear, and, what’s worse, is that watching the film one doesn’t get the sense that anyone bothered to come up with answers to any of these questions.   All these things just exist because they enable the film to make jokes. 

One of the main plotlines in the film revolves around Elizabeth trying to get money for breast implants, she assumes that the reason she can’t land a rich man is that her breasts are simply too small.  This goal influences nearly all of her actions, leading to shenanigans including her participation (in a skimpy outfit) in the seventh grade car wash and her doing everything (illegal) in her power to have her kids get the top score on a standardized test.

These moments, and so many more, work in the film, but they never really tie together as well as they should, and any time there is any attempt to have more than just a comedic bit in the story, everything that occurs is well-worn and obvious.  Perhaps worse than that, all too regularly (even in the unrated version of the movie), Elizabeth doesn’t quite go far enough.  Short shorts and a skimpy top are good for the car wash, but if she really wanted to make money, why isn’t she in a bikini?  One trip to a bar to pick up rich guys didn’t work, but why was that the last time she stopped trying?  How did she get her first rich fiancé?  Why does she not attempt whatever machination that was again?

Bad Teacher gives a few laughs and a few really good moments.  However, for it to be a compelling movie, it to needs to work out a worthwhile story rather than opting to coast on these moments.  With apologies, it’s like the CliffsNotes for a film rather than a full film.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release is given just as short shrift as the story.  Regularly within the film one shot doesn’t match the next, the coloring of the scene changes from warm and bright in the first shot to grey and dull in the next.  Not having seen the film in theaters I can’t state that the theatrical release didn’t have this issue, but it does look incredibly disappointing here.  Yes, there are tons of detail, great black levels, and a very solid soundtrack on the release, but the changing colors are both disturbing and distracting.  As for that soundtrack, the film has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and it does sound very good.  The surrounds create a lively environment, and unlike the visuals the entire track is well-balanced.  It is crisp, it is clear, it shows a level of care not matched by what is seen on screen.

There may be several bonus features that accompany Bad Teacher on Blu-ray, but they tend to be as shallow as the film itself.   Not only is there a gag reel, there are also deleted scenes, and outtakes present – and all as separate bonus features.  There are also a few behind the scenes pieces on the making of the film which do feature the actors having quite a good time.  They’re amusing and easy to watch, but there’s not much “there” there.  The same is true of a virtual yearbook which provides a look at some of the characters in the movie.  The disc comes with both the unrated and rated versions of the film (the former of which contains a few extended/extra scenes, some of which add to the film and some of which detract).

There are a couple of moments in Bad Teacher which are truly hysterical, there are more moments which are moderately amusing, and then there’s the rest of the movie which you just sort of have to sit through waiting for the next funny thing to happen.  There just aren’t enough of the good moments to make that a proposition worth accepting.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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