Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bad Teacher [2011]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 ½ Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

The first and most important thing that folks should know about the comedy, Bad Teacher (directed by Jake Kasdan, written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg), is that it certainly deserves its R-Rating, and its makers would probably consider the Catholic News Service’s “O” (for Offensive) rating as a badge of honor.

I say this because while I would imagine that many/most older teens and especially college students/young adults (some of whom would either be teachers, studying to be teachers or certainly have friends who are teachers or studying to be teachers) as well as older adults (ie parents) would certainly enjoy this movie, there is at least one Something About Mary-like scene in Bad Teacher involving bodily fluids that I certainly would not want to be a parent feeling the need to explain to their 14-15 year old.  So parents, _you are warned_: the R-rating here is absolutely appropriate and no, this would _not_ be a “family movie.” 

So then, why make or review such a movie at all?  Well, because Bad Teacher is often very, very funny.  Why?  Because the makers of this film did try to portray a true “teacher from hell” (awful teacher) and ... most viewers would agree, they probably succeeded ;-).

The movie begins with a small, very small “faculty gathering” at the end of the school year wishing departing 7th grade teacher Elizabeth (Liz) Halsey (played by Cameron Diaz) “all the best” after 1 year of teaching as she leaves John Adams Middle School (JAMS) to get married.  They give her a $37 dollar gift card (“almost $40") to Boston Market.  She thanks them, apologizes for “not being particularly engaged” in her work that year, because,  well “she was planning her wedding ...” and then heads off to the parking lot where she hops into her red Mercedes sports car, burns rubber as she speeds backing-up out of the parking-lot, cutting off a school bus packed with her former students in the process.  She comes home, only to find her rich fiancé (along with his mother) waiting for her to dump her.  Damn ...

Three months later, she’s back teaching 7th grade at JAMS, driving a used red Neon, ready to start the school year ... Has she changed, learned from her experience?  Well, she convinced herself that her fiancé dumped her, not because she was using him for his money, but because her breasts weren’t large enough (if they were large enough, presumably, _he wouldn’t care_ if she was using him for his money ...).

So she decides to get a “boob job.”  When she finds out that this would cost her over $9,000, money that she does not have “on a teacher’s salary,” she gets really mercenary about getting the required money.  No, she doesn’t stoop to (outright) prostitution for it.  But truly anything else goes: Stealing “excess money” collected from the annual “school car wash” which she took responsibility for after finding out how much money it had made the previous year (no doubt, she believed that she “earned” the extra money the carwash made with her taking it over);. taking (extorting?) money from parents by promising special attention and “tutoring if need be” for the kids whose parents, well ...

She was just one _really bad_, utterly self-absorbed person, who actually “chose a career” in a field that most people would consider a “helping profession.”  Why would she have done that?  Certainly, not to actually teach for a living.  She probably went to college with hopes of meeting a (really rich) guy to marry, one who could buy her that red Mercedes convertible to drive.  And she had _almost_ succeeded ... Having failed the first time, "older but retooled" she was hoping get "back in the game."

The other faculty are a hoot as well.  There’s Elizabeth’s rival at the school, Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Punch) who’s also single, also looking for a guy, but who sees her "secret weapon" with regards to both men and her students to be her "downhome cutsiness and creativity" -- “ice breakers," "games," “craft projects,” etc.  Then there’s Russell Gattis (played by Jason Segal) a decent-looking (but not superbly "fit") 30-something “gym teacher,” who’s single but who none of the single women teachers at the school take seriously because, well, he’s a gym teacher.  Instead, both Amy and Liz have their eyes on nerdy but apparently from a rich family “new-meat” history teacher Scott Delacorte (played by Justin Timberlake).  And there’s sweet and also single Lynn Davies (played by Phillis Smith) who again neither Liz nor Amy take seriously because she's, well, "rather large."  Ever-optimistic but out of touch, Principal Wally Snur (played by John Michael Higgins) tries to lead a cheerful ship.  And there are a whole bunch of other bit-part teachers present as well, some of whom organized a pretty awful “lounge rock-band” that plays the local suburban “Best Western” circuit. 

Some of Elizabeth’s seventh graders also have stock personalities of note.  There’s suck-up Sasha Abernathy (played by Kaitlyn Dever), cool girl Chase Rubin-Rossi (played by Kathryn Newton) and chubby Garrett Tiara (played by Matthew J. Evans) who’s in love with Chase and doesn’t have a clue that there’s no way at all that she’s ever going to be interested in him.  Here Liz, tries really, really hard to straighten him out to that fact, no doubt because she saw herself as  Chase when she was in 7th grade as well.

So the cast offers much comic potential and, with often wildly exaggerated crudity, largely delivers.  There’s a scene in which a startled, ever-baked cookie wielding Sasha finds her teacher, Liz, smoking a pipe in her Neon with the windows rolled up in the school parking lot between classes.  Liz answers her stupefied student by lifting up a random piece of paper she quickly finds on the passenger seat of her car, while still trying keep the smoke in her lungs and saying: “Hey, it’s medicinal, I have a prescription, see ...” Would one expect to catch a real teacher smoking pot in the parking lot between classes?  ONE WOULD HOPE NOT.  But then, Liz, is one really, really bad, awful teacher.  And so it goes ... and you get the picture. 

Clearly, Bad Teacher is _not_ for everyone.  It _glories_ in being awful.  Clearly it deserves its R-rating.  It _seeks_ to shock and offend.  As I noted at the start of this review, there is a scene or two that I really would not want to be _either_ parent or teen watching the film together.  That said, it is a very funny film, funny because we would hope it could not possibility be _that_ true.

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