MCN Columnists
Heather Havrilesky

By Heather Havrilesky hhavrilesky@gmail.com

Review: Bad Teacher

Bad to the bone

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Pill-popping nurses. Meth-cooking chemistry teachers. Pot-peddling moms. Homicidal detectives. Drunk daddies. Horrible bosses. It makes simple sense that the generation raised on syrupy, hugging-and-learning fare like “Love Boat” and “Eight Is Enough” would revel in corrupt characters. Rather than watching the same frazzled heroes rise to some grand challenge under duress, we’re treated to crestfallen types who cut corners, lie through their teeth and whine like children, smoking and swearing and driving too fast all the while.

Still, once the nurse passes out on her shift, the chem teacher gets someone killed, and the pot peddling mom gets pregnant with a drug kingpin’s baby, then what? As most people know from their experiences at spring break, writer’s conferences or extended bouts of unemployment, you can only wallow in depravity for so long before it starts to get a little tedious. Then the trick is to make salvation look satisfying – and let’s face it, Jesus himself was hard pressed to fulfill that goal.

This is the big problem with a movie like “Bad Teacher.” You start with a skin-deep concept — she’s a teacher, but she’s baaad! – and you’ve already backed yourself into a corner. Because once your bad teacher has napped during class, swigged from the little bottles of liquor in her desk, puffed on pot in the parking lot, cheated, lied, stolen and written “Stupid!” in red marker all over tests, what’s left?

Which isn’t to deny the inherent entertainment factor of watching a high school teacher ignore the imperatives of her career’s chirpy-nerd culture by showing up to class violently hungover and showing teacher-themed movies (“Dangerous Minds” anyone?) instead of actually teaching. “Bad Teacher” achieves its chuckles in no small part because Cameron Diaz makes a surprisingly convincing self-interested, shallow jerk. After watching Diaz play the sporty guy’s-girl and the lovable, goofy sweetheart for so many years now, it’s refreshing to see her sulking and cussing and rolling her eyes for a change. Not only are most of us about as sick of the plucky, aw-shucks romantic heroine as we once were with the earnest moralism of the ’70s and ’80s, but we’ve heard Diaz’s off-key singing and endured her heartfelt odes to meats on sticks already. Watching her embody a grumbly, self-serving catastrophe is every bit as enjoyable as the movie poster suggests, and it’s a testament to Diaz’s talents that she can make us root for Elizabeth Halsey, an awful person who spends the majority for the movie plotting tirelessly to raise money for a new pair of fake tits.

There’s nothing specifically wrong with the rest of the movie. It meets the minimum requirements to graduate, with some occasional A and B moments along the way. Somehow, though, things never quite transcend the realm of mildly enjoyable. Justin Timberlake shifts gears as dramatically as Diaz here, leaving his nefarious charmer role from “The Social Network” in the dust to play a dorky teacher prone to painfully geeky remarks about the incomparable joys of molding young people into honorable souls. Timberlake makes up for a blatantly Adam Sandler-esque love song with a hilarious dry-humping scene that’s exactly as queasily over-the-top as it should be.

Most of the other characters, though, feel like bland versions of characters from a Christopher Guest film. There’s the geeky principal with a passion for dolphins (John Michael Higgins), the geeky rival teacher who spouts bad puns and wears terrible costumes to spice up her classes (Lucy Punch), and the geeky rule-follower friend who supports Elizabeth’s ambitious quest for boobs but would never dare to color outside the lines herself (Phyllis Smith). Quirky geeks can be amusing, but without a commitment to revealing deeper levels of oddness or reveling in outright madness, you’ve got a succession of look-how-dorky scenes that you could find in any given scene involving the OCD guidance counselor from “Glee.”

If you’re going to make a movie that’s really a farce – because the characters are all caricatures, because the situations aren’t realistic – then it had better be packed with enough jokes or ridiculous situations to keep the audience laughing so loudly they don’t care how plausible the plot is. “Old School,” “School of Rock,” “Talladega Nights” – these are the sorts of movies where you expect pure ridiculousness and jokes and curveballs every few minutes. Instead, “Bad Teacher” features a scene where Diaz washes cars in slow motion, causing a gape-jawed preteen to sport a visible boner. If you really want to watch an extra-long Carl’s Jr. commercial, why bother leaving the house?

Of course, “Bad Teacher” itself is just a snappy pitch with no follow through, the sort of skin-deep idea that can get development executives (and audiences) interested without exerting itself unduly. “Cameron Diaz plays a drunk whore of a high school teacher, and Justin Timberlake is her goody-two-shoes love interest? Where do we sign?” Considering the total lack of a thoughtful plot, considering the dearth of memorable jokes or scenes or characters, “Bad Teacher” really isn’t that bad at all. And look, if you laugh out loud at Carl’s Jr. commercials, definitely go see this movie. But if you don’t, and you still wan to see a charming film about geeky regular folks, rent “Cedar Rapids” and give “Bad Teacher” a pass.

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4 Responses to “Review: Bad Teacher”

  1. T.Holly says:

    Ew, love interest with her ex, is there chemistry?

  2. SamLowry says:

    Seeing how Republicans have convinced the republic that teachers deserve no more respect than burger-flippers and should receive the same wage, the timing of this film couldn’t be worse. (Teachers in Michigan will soon have their health premiums jacked up and their salaries cut by as much as 20%. Yet they are supposed to consider themselves lucky because they weren’t fired outright by schools that have already cut art and music and are now wondering if reading classes are really all that necessary. Consider yourself lucky if you don’t live in this wonderful state.)

    No mention of how she managed to land a job if she was such a flake or what made her snap if she was once a respectable teacher. Sure, tenure can provide some protection but in many states a teacher who goes rogue will find themselves on leave pretty darn quick. (Are New York teachers with cases pending still sent to the “Rubber Room”?) Passing it off as ridiculous farce like “Talladega Nights” doesn’t help, though, since far too many folks are too willing to believe that both of these movies depict real life.

  3. sadiesays says:

    yeesh. Cameron is not aging well. Remember her in The Mask? Yes, that was 17 years ago, but with all her money and ability to live a sweet life? She looks like a retired boxer now.

  4. Francis says:

    Hey SamLowry, are you saying the Republican party made this crappy movie? Are you as stupid in real life as you sound in your review?

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
The Purge: Anarchy 12.9 2806 NEW 12.9
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 10.4 3969 -62% 113.4
Planes: Fire & Rescue 6.3 3826 NEW 6.3
Sex Tape 5.6 3062 NEW 5.6
Transformers: Age of Extinction 2.7 3224 -45% 219.9
Tammy 2.3 3402 -45% 65.9
22 Jump Street 1.4 2229 -31% 177.2
How to Train Your Dragon 2 1.1 2169 -40% 157.9
Earth to Echo 1 2450 -44% 29.7
Maleficent 0.9 1541 -27% 226
Also Debuting
Persecuted 0.31 736
Wish I Was Here 0.15 68
Velaiyilla Pattathari 61,800 31
Mood Indigo 10,400 2
There's No Place Like Utopia 10,300 1
I Origins 9,500 4
A Five Star Life 4,000 1
Alive Inside 3,600 1
An American in Hollywood 2,750 4
Among Ravens 2,000 4
Video Games 1,700 6
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
It was supposed to be a horse race (notwithstanding Belmont) but at the finish line the singular teen romance The Fault in Our Stars left the competition in the dust with an estimated $48.1 million debut. Conversely, the frame’s other major release Edge of Tomorrow proved disappointing in a distant second at $28.9 million.
Exclusive newcomers were strong, including a solo Manhattan campaign of $9,400 for Citizen Koch. Much-ballyhooed abortion-themed rom-com Obvious Child proved fertile with $84,100 at four dispensaries.
In the niches, Indian import Holiday partied fair at $373,000 while Pinoy romantic comedy Maybe This Time grossed an impressive return of $552,000 on a trifling 51 screens.
Revenues for the session exceeded $160 million and ebbed 3% from last weekend’s tally. It was 8% improved from 2013 when the debut of The Purge posted $34 million and holdovers of Fast & Furious 6 and Now You See Me duked it out for place position with respective box office of $19.6 million and $19 million.
Industry tracking pitted The Fault in Our Stars against Edge of Tomorrow with the former demonstrating a slight edge as it picked up momentum toward opening day. The adaptation of John Green’s YA novel of teens who strike sparks in a cancer support group had a prognosis of $35 million.
The tide truly turned when Fault generated $8.2 million and Edge took in $1.8 million from Thursday previews. Crystal ball-gazers upped the ante to $55 million but the picture took another surprise turn with an unexpected 31% drop from Friday to Saturday business. Strong WOM in exit polling bodes well to broaden the opening weekend crowd, a predictaly 82% of women and was 79% aged 25-years and younger.
Edge of Tomorrow appeared to suffer from the amusement park factor with the movie crowd opting to skip this particular fun ride. Tracking had pegged the pic to open at between $32 million and $34 million. Reviews were upbeat for the futuristic mayhem with a Groundhog Day twist that opened a week earlier in 27 international territories to $18.7 million.
Exit demos also indicated that the sci-fier wasn’t particularly stepping on Fault’s toes with a 61% male tilt and 73% of the audience aged 25-years and older. A studio spokesman expressed confidence for a strong second weekend hold but history and upcoming competition definitely have the picture bucking considerable odds. International prospects are already ahead of Edge of Darkness’s likely final domestic tally with a second weekend estimated at $82 million that included a $25 million bow in China, $16.6 million in South Korea and Russia with $8.6 million.
Open Road's Chef expanded effectively again, prepping $10 million domestically.
Weekend (estimates) June 6 - 8, 2014
Title
Distributor
Gross (average)
% change *
Theaters
Cume
The Fault in Our Stars
Fox
48.1 (15,160)
NEW
3173
48.1
Maleficent
BV
33.6 (8,520)
-52%
3948
127.5
Edge of Tomorrow
WB
28.9 (8,280)
NEW
3490
28.9
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
14.9 (4,090)
-54%
3639
189
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Uni
7.2 (2,270)
-57%
3160
30.1
Godzilla
WB
6.0 (1.920)
-50%
3110
185.1
Neighbors
Uni
5.2 (1,940)
-36%
2674
137.8
Blended
WB
4.0 (1,370)
-51%
2928
36.5
Chef
Open Road
2.5 (1,940)
32%
1298
10.3
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
1.9 (1,290)
-46%
1481
196.3
Million Dollar Arm
BV
1.8 (1,120)
-49%
1643
31.4
Belle
Searchlight
.75 (1,580)
-40%
476
7.6
Rio 2
Fox
.72 (1,030)
-35%
702
125.6
Maybe This Time
ABS
.55 (10,820)
NEW
51
0.55
The Other Woman
Fox
.48 (980)
-65%
489
83.2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
.43 (1,360)
-31%
317
255.9
Holiday
Big Pictures
.37 (2,590)
NEW
144
0.37
Heaven is for Real
Sony
.37 (830)
-54%
446
88.8
Words and Pictures
Roadside Attractions
.29 (2,940)
269%
98
0.54
Grand Seduction
eOne
.28 (3,020)
-13%
97
0.82
The Lego Movie
WB
.26 (960)
-5%
274
255.8
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fox Searchlight
.24 (1,280)
-37%
185
57.8
Ida
Music Box
.21 (2,540)
-10%
84
1.3
The Immigrant
Weinstein
.19 (1,320)
-39%
145
1.4
Divergent
Lionsgate
.19 (650)
-43%
298
149
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films)
$156.60
% Change (Last Year)
8%
% Change (Last Week)
-3%
Also debuting/expanding
Fed Up
Weinstein Co.
83,600 (950)
-49%
88
1.2
Obvious Child
A24
84,100 (21,030)
4
0.08
Cold in July
IFC
68,900 (970)
-38%
71
0.25
Night Moves
Cinedgm
48,500 (1,520)
126%
32
30,800
Lunchbox
Sony Classics
50,700 (1,100)
-9%
46
4.1
Filmistaan
UTV
35,500 (1,480)
24
0.04
WolfCop
Echolands
34,900 (4,360)
8
0.03
Ping Pong Summer
Gravitas
26,400 (1,760)
15
0.03
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Weinstein Co.
23,200 (5,800)
4
0.02
Only Lovers Left Alive
Sony Classics
22,800 (760)
-53%
30
1.6
Tracks
Mongrel
13,800 (2,760)
5
0.01
Citizen Koch
Variance
9,400 (9,400)
1
0.01
Trust Me
Paladin
5,100 (565)
9
0.01
Burning Blue
Film Arcade
4,600 (380)
12
0.01
The Case Against 8
Submarine
4,300 (1,430)
3
0.01
Test
Variance
2,400 (800)
3
0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014)
Distributor
Box Office
Market Share
Warner Bros. (12)
728.5
16.80%
Buena Vista (11)
677.1
15.60%
20th Century Fox (11)
615.2
14.20%
Sony (11)
577.7
13.30%
Universal (10)
540.5
12.50%
Paramount (8)
322.2
7.40%
Lionsgate (13)
285.4
6.60%
Open Road (6)
95.1
2.20%
Fox Searchlight (5)
83.7
1.90%
Weinstein Co. (12)
76.5
1.80%
Relativity (5)
75.5
1.80%
FreeStyle (6)
68.9
1.60%
Focus (6)
39.2
0.90%
eOne/Seville (14)
35.3
0.80%
Other * (142)
107.9
2.60%
4328.7
100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%
Top Domestic Grossers (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014) *
Title
Distributor
Box Office
The Lego Movie
WB
255,590,340
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
255,447,104
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
194,388,396
Godzilla
WB
179,093,006
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
174,401,266
Divergent
Lionsgate
148,811,524
Frozen *
BV
137,534,677
Ride Along
Uni
134,965,071
Neighbors
Uni
132,600,495
Lone Survivor
Uni/eOne
125,026,404
Rio 2
Fox
124,909,565
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Fox
110,162,081
300: Rise of an Empire
WB
106,601,189
Noah
Par
100,950,258
Maleficent
BV
93,846,968
Non-Stop
Uni
91,869,306
Heaven is for Real
Sony
88,412,645
American Hustle *
Sony/eOne
82,661,672
The Other Woman
Fox
81,725,819
The Monuments Men
Sony
78,132,865
* does not include 2013 Box Office