The career of an actress is incredibly more focused on a specific attribute that defines who they are, where their performances become labeled by a certain genre they comfortably fit into. The lifespan of a male actor is far more diverse and lengthy compared to that of a female. Either a Hollywood sex pot oozing with male appeal, owning a million dollar smile that’s worth every penny, having a laugh to die for, playing the adorable love interest time after time, portraying the image of a bad ass female action heroine or just being an all around great actor like Meryl Streep (a category of its own); it’s not easy to stay in the spotlight for the right reasons as an actress.
When it comes to the bountiful essence of Cameron Diaz, a few images immediately pop up. The sexy, fresh image of her entering the bank where Jim Carrey works in her screen debut in The Mask, and her inconspicuously spiked hairdo in There’s Something About Mary. She displayed talent early in a cute, innocent way that required only a set of eyes and a willingness to believe she was more that who she appeared to be. Other than the odd supporting role in good movies like Being John Malkovich and Gangs of New York, Diaz has emerged more as a recognizable face in mainstream films than as a leading lady worth Oscar gold.
Her aged persona has given her the rare opportunity to acquire a new taste for projects like this summer’s comedy, Bad Teacher, where she plays an elementary school teacher who is someone that deserves her own form of detention for constant profanity, drug use and drinking. A bad teacher indeed. Though she tries a little too hard to be in the same league as a certain filthy Santa impersonator, the film’s script ends up being its major pitfall that holds it back from being a great comedy. However, Diaz and the talented cast do give it their all despite the numerous problems that are present throughout it.
Explaining the story of the film is pointless but nevertheless, here’s a quick summary. Elizabeth (Diaz) is introduced as a teacher from hell. Not just because she doesn’t care about her occupation, but for the understanding behind her career decision or even her general outlook on life altogether. As a gold digger who loses her endless source of gold, Elizabeth resorts back to her old teaching job, and that’s as far as the explanation for her character’s reasoning gets.
She’s foul and ruthless to her students, as evident in the trailers for the film, but why? It would have greatly benefited Diaz to create a performance based on someone who you can relate to or value in moments of redemption, such as her various efforts to raise money from activities such as a striptease car wash or winning over the affections of a fellow nerd teacher (Justin Timberlake). Elizabeth is more of an underachiever though, focused on coasting through life’s obstacles with her whiny attitude and good looks (Diaz still has it).
To say the film drags at times is an understatement that can’t be ignored. After a good half hour of getting settled in to Elizabeth’s shocking way of education, the plot runs into brick walls frequently. Most of these are because of too many supporting characters that infiltrate the picture and are simply there to advance the storyline or are added as different ways to interpret Elizabeth.
Lucy Punch, who plays Diaz’s school board nemesis, is a wasted opportunity. She initially appears as an excellent distinction in taste to Elizabeth’s study in slacking of schoolwork assignments and bullying of students, she is stern and straight-forward. But she devolves into a crazed maniac who seems to be in the wrong movie by the end of it.
Timberlake however is the opposite, he is written as a one-note character. His naive charm and enthusiasm for being silly only stretches so far, which is a shame since he really has a knack for being comedic. Here’s hoping he gets a better part for his upcoming film Friends with Benefits with fellow comedian and Natalie Portman lip-locker, Mila Kunis.
The only actor who really deserves more time onscreen is of course, Jason Segal. His limited appearances are worth it just for his terrific delivery and perfect sense of comedic timing. As a love interest he’s not effective at all but he’s still a delight everytime he shows up.
Cameos are also aplenty with faces from all over appearing frequently. A particular favorite is Phyllis Smith from The Office who is such a sweet person that it’s almost hard to watch her support the likes of such rudeness as Elizabeth.
Diaz has a tough job to pull off in Bad Teacher, you don’t root for her character even when she becomes a better person towards the end and you don’t necessarily like her character either. Instead, you laugh at her reactions and incomprehensible acts of wrongdoings as a teacher. It wears thin quickly, especially when the plot gets stale and Diaz’s fifteenth f-bomb is uttered to horrified children.
Even with such a butchered script and a personality as weak as Elizabeth’s, Diaz seems to rise above it all (for the most part) and gives a spirited performance. She does a great job as a selfish, cheating twit who cares about doing what she wants as the ultimate goal. That being said, she isn’t nearly in the same category of bad as Billy Bob Thorton from the holiday cult classic Bad Santa.
She isn’t as desperate for acceptance and she doesn’t have a meaningful way of showing humanity through her tormented ways. Diaz can only do so much with what she is given and if her character was more fully developed and focused on becoming understandable, the film would be something completely different and generally better.
In the end, as a comedy, the film isn’t consistent and as a black comedy it isn’t as sharp or satirical as it could be. Bad Teacher is only as promising as its lead performance, but even Diaz and good supporting cast mates like Segal can’t hold the whole picture together. By the time the film is over, perhaps the baddest thing of all is the taste left in your mouth.