In film, there are very few instances of pure, unadulterated evil (with no supernatural strings attached). Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects comes to mind easily as one of the top villains in film, with John Doe from Se7en coming right behind in second place; Max Cady from Cape Fear (as played by both Robert Mitchum in 1962 and Robert DeNiro in the 1991 remake) and Reverend Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter (oddly enough, played by Mitchum as well) tie for a close third. However, is it more evil to end someone’s life or to willingly hurt people and feel no remorse about it? Khan Noonien Singh would say it is worse to hurt someone than to kill him; with that in mind, Bad Teacher’s Elizabeth Halsey gets my vote as one of moviedom’s all-time most ruthless villains.
Cameron Diaz characterizes Ms. Halsey as a terrible person with nothing good or redeeming about her at all; she plots and schemes to ruin other people in order to fulfill her wishes with no conscience or forethought. She is typical “trash Americana”, wanting the world but not willing to do the work for it; she shows no compunction in stepping on whomever she needs to step on (and grinding them into a pulp) in order to get what she wants. She is, without a doubt, the most despicable character in any movie whatsoever – well, aside from the bankers and money men from Inside Job, last year’s documentary about the financial collapse. And no matter how hard people try to get through to her, she only sees what she wants to see or takes what she wants to take from what anyone has to say or do for her. She spends the film obsessing about getting the money for a boob job, and no one’s going to stop her in her relentless quest for the perfect breasts.
Now imagine throwing that kind of person in front of your children as their 7th grade teacher.
Essentially, this is a 92-minute exercise in exposing everything that’s wrong with America and exaggerating it to outrageous proportions. Director Jake Kasdan (director of the ultra-great Zero Effect) and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (writers of the US version of “The Office”) have put together an odd sort of commentary on public issues – obesity, bullying, oversexualization of our youth, drug use, stereotypically enthusiastic teachers, religion, hypocrisy, narcissism and more – only to run the proverbial skewer through them all. There are very few likable characters in Bad Teacher, in keeping with this warped worldview; the most approachable character seems to be a pot-smoking gym teacher (Jason Segel from “How I Met Your Mother”), whose romantic pursuit of Ms. Halsey borders on the overly-awkward. British actress Lucy Punch absolutely runs amok with her portrayal of Ms. Amy Squirrell, a woman bound and determined to be the best teacher anyone can be. Don’t be surprised if you find yourselves having grade school flashbacks whenever she’s onscreen; we’ve all met that teacher that takes his or her job a little too seriously, always speaking with a tone of well-meaning condescension and false cheeriness, which Punch plays extremely well. And as far as Justin Timberlake goes… let’s just say he’s very surprising. His character shifts and nuances fit the film well, and he provides a lot of the laughs, no matter how wince-inducing they may be.
This isn’t your typical “I’m bad, but I learned something and I’m gonna change” movie, which is something I wholly admire about Bad Teacher. There’s no epiphany, no turning point, no “I’ve seen the light” moment. Here, we have a movie about an abominable woman’s singular drive to achieve, no matter the cost or who she screws over or harms in the process. Too many movies have that cop-out point where the character changes for the better to atone for whatever happened up to that minute in the film – we see a lot of it in films with Adam Sandler and Jack Black – to the point where it’s become like that annoying friend who just won’t leave your party. With no apologies and no regret, Cameron Diaz has created one of the most reprehensible characters ever committed to film, and the movie is stronger because of it. Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Bad Teacher is a welcome, female-fronted entry into the formerly male-dominated “crass cinema” genre. Like Bridesmaids before it, the girls are having their day in the sun, and we’re all reaping the ensuing hilarity.
FINAL GRADE: B
TRR Movie Revue by Eddie Pasa
(Special thanks to Mireya Pasa for help with the title.)