There’s something about Elizabeth …
June 30, 2011
In the R-rated girl-comedy, “Bad Teacher,” Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), stuck in a low-paying teacher’s job, is determined to marry money. Writing this age-old ambition into the character of a middle-school teacher, whose mission, to procure D-cups and flash them at desirable males, is a modern twist that highlights her shallow perspective.
Diaz broadcasts an airheaded quality, albeit, with glimpses of more brains than readily perceived. It’s her first role in ages to capitalize on her light-hearted comic gifts.
The object of Elizabeth’s attention, new teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), is heir to a designer-brand fortune. To win him, Elizabeth must climb over her co-worker and chief rival, Amy Squirrel, (Lucy Punch). The task is difficult because Amy appears to be a selfless educator with everyone’s best interests at heart. While Elizabeth parades around in skimpy outfits and 4-inch spike heels, Amy works diligently to project the image of the nice-lady you can trust with your children.
Elizabeth is a motivated – if not particularly astute – student of human behavior. When seeking a plumb school assignment, she indulges the principal’s (Thomas Lennon of “Reno 911”) love of dolphins. The gold-digger uses her rocking-hot body to every advantage, but is more calculating than she appears. Despite being a lazy teacher (i.e. she puts in a DVD for her class, and dons a sleeping mask to catch a much-needed nap), Elizabeth remains lovable because she works hard at getting what she wants, and shares her street-savvy knowledge with those in need.
Timberlake and Jason Segel, the latter playing a genial co-worker, barely register as necessary characters. However, Punch plays Elizabeth’s across-the-hall rival, Amy, in a manner that allows us see to her gears turning, as seemingly sweet Amy schemes to drum Elizabeth out of teaching and ruin her chances with Scott. Punch’s subtle body language screams repressed anger, lending an intensity to her character that injects the film with emotional oomph. Phyllis Smith comes aboard as Elizabeth’s insecure teacher, until Elizabeth teaches her to unleash her wild child.
There’s plenty to learn from a teacher like a Elizabeth – but most of it is unsuited to either children or a middle school classroom.