A comedy documenting the evolution in character of Elizabeth Halsey (played by Cameron Diaz), Bad Teacher introduces the central character as an educator in name only. Elizabeth drinks, Elizabeth smokes marijuana and Elizabeth dreams of ensnaring a wealthy husband. Elizabeth does not, however, teach; preferring to put on film after film for her students whilst she sleeps off her latest drink- or drug-induced hangover.
Left by a rich fiancé who has eventually discovered her shallow, avaricious ways, Elizabeth’s interest is aroused by the introduction of a new colleague, Scott Delacorte (played by Justin Timberlake). There then ensues a battle for Scott between Elizabeth and Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Punch), an ostensibly conscientious member of John Adams Middle School’s staff. Meanwhile, in the background, it becomes clear that Elizabeth herself has an admirer – the school’s sports teacher, Russell Gettis (played by Jason Segel).
Much of the start of the film is dedicated to chronicling the various schemes Elizabeth employs to raise money for planned cosmetic surgery, she deciding her body required enhancement after learning that Scott’s former girlfriend had large breasts. For this end, Elizabeth takes part in a seventh grade fundraising event and encourages parents to part with their cash for “school supplies”. Seeds of an important part of the storyline are sown when Elizabeth finds out that the teacher with the highest performing class in the state exams is rewarded with a huge bonus.
But the main source of comedy in the film is the jousting and plotting between Elizabeth and Amy as they simultaneously seek the affection of the new teacher. Following the common structure of the comedic love triangle, Bad Teacher acts as a vehicle for various light-hearted acts of envy and revenge. Elizabeth acts against Amy and Amy, of course, responds similarly. This aspect of the narrative is certainly not groundbreaking but the scenes it produces are not without enjoyment, Punch executing well the peeling back of her character’s façade of the considerate, pleasant model teacher. The potential of acts of seduction and their wider context to get a laugh is another comedic seam which is tapped into by the film’s writers.
Bad Teacher is not belly-achingly funny, nor does it claim new territory for the world of cinema. But a film does not have to be either of these things to be a watchable comedy. Some scenes are genuinely amusing and the plot offers enough of a twist to keep viewers’ attention to the very end. Bad Teacher is an average member of the class, rather charming and possibly likeable. However, it remains very doubtful that the film will be remembered as one of the star pupils of its year. Give Bad Teacher a go, but do not feel compelled to miss school to do so.