Monday, June 27, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Cameron Diaz's "Bad Teacher"

Ever since Bridesmaids hit theaters critics have been batting around the question of whether women can be funny without being inappropriate, a.k.a. behaving like men. Some of them believe that real women don't speak frankly about sex, have explosive diarrhea, or act drunk-and-disorderly on a plane. As a result, leading ladies have long been the eye candy in films. The only roles given to conventionally unattractive women are those of supporting characters, ugly best friends, drug addicts, or murderers—and sometimes even the murderess is smoking hot. We've put such an emphasis on beauty-before-talent that we actually award beautiful actresses who uglify themselves for a role, impressed with their "bravery." So every time there's a comedy where a girl does something other than look pretty, act nice, or act neurotic, some critics claim that the screenwriter is simply desperate for a laugh. It's the equivalent of a comedian sprinkling in a few F-bombs to make a joke funnier. Menxploitation?

By those strict standards, Cameron Diaz's character could be deemed "unrealistic." She's a manipulative, narcissistic, alcoholic, pill-popping pothead who shirks her teaching responsibilities, steals funding from the school, believes in corporal punishment, and whores herself out for money. This role could've very well been played by a dude—and kind of already was. Cameron's the Bad Teacher, but Billy Bob Thornton was Bad Santa. Regardless, film is supposed to reflect society as it is and as it should be with exposés and PSAs, so whether guys want to hear it or not, there does exist a girl on this planet who behaves exactly like Cameron's character. Hell, Paris Hilton is a pretty close clone, apart from the child abuse and stealing—that we know of. And I think Cameron does a great job of not playing her too over-the-top or "masculine," and delivering every searing put-down with no remnants of her signature sweetness (There's Something About Mary, Charlie's Angels, and Knight & Day). Of course, this isn't the first time Cameron's played an "unconventional" female character. While The Sweetest Thing wasn't exactly a hit, it pushed the envelope with oral sex jokes and gross bathroom humor just enough to seem funny without being crass. And Bad Teacher does the same by adding a life lesson.
During one of Elizabeth Halsey's very few teaching moments, she has a mini-epiphany when she realizes the same thing Cameron's character learned in The Sweetest Thing: She's too old to keep having superficial relationships and behaving like a self-absorbed bitch. Granted, she could've learned that lesson quicker if she just listened to her co-worker Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch from Take Me Home Tonight and Dinner for Schmucks), who correctly predicted that the children would one day teach her. Of course, I wouldn't blame Elizabeth for ignoring Amy's advice, because she was a complete lunatic. She is what some critics refer to as a more realistic portrayal of the female populace: an obsessive, neurotic, rule-enforcing, clingy, overly friendly sociopath. Lucy did a great job of not only setting an example of what a real teacher should behave like, but of making us hate her goody-two-shoes act just as much as Elizabeth did. No matter how many movies she showed instead of teaching or how many times she blew off the class kiss-ass Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever from "Justified"), we always sided with Elizabeth. We weren't sympathizing with her because she got dumped by a rich, Opera-obsessed mama's boy or because she had such low self-esteem and such a warped sense of self that she thought a boob job would fix her problems. We sided with her because everybody has met that girl. The one who acts like your boss but isn't. The one who secretly competes with you for everything. The one who gives you backhanded compliments and talks shit about you when you're not around. That girl was my frenemy in middle school. Nobody's going to root for that bitch, because to us she's the phony.
That's why what happens between Amy and Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) seems well-deserved. Although, I must admit they were a match made in heaven, because they were both lame with a capital L-O-S-E-R. He was like what everyone imagines Mr. Roger's was like when he was in his 20s, except I'm almost positive Mr. Rogers wouldn't dry hump someone in a cheap motel on a school field trip. And in being her male phony equivalent—and decently playing against type—Justin left the door open for the unlikely Prince Charming to be Jason Segel's character Russell Gettis. (I personally think critics should make just as much of a fuss about all of our big screen Prince Charmings going from Jon Hamm to Chris O'Dowd—still awesome, just not as dreamy.) I was surprised by Cameron & Segel's chemistry, and comical sparring rhythm. She mostly reacted to his advances and playful judgments, but he was exactly what her character needed: someone sweetly confident who wouldn't put up with her shit. And Segel has mastered the art of playing sweetly confident on CBS's "How I Met Your Mother." I was just surprised that he would click with Cameron on more than just their height. Lovable lugs are the new Romeos of the summer. You just want to mount them and get bakedbake cookies after.
After seeing the trailer, I thought Segel would be the scene stealer of the film—although I'm sure most people had their money on Justin—but it turns out Phyllis Smith ("The Office") was the supporting actor who got the most laughs. Her awkward desire to become best friends with "the popular girl," and her hesitant interest in being rebellious were some of the best scenes of the film. I also thought Thomas Lennon would outdo his previous scene-stealing roles (I Love You Man and 17 Again), but this time he was just pathetic. The child actors weren't really of note either—no Chloe Moretz's, Elle Fanning's, Joel Courtney's, or Riley Griffith's here—but they weren't really given the best material to work with. Noah Munck tried to expand his "iCarly"-Gibby schtick, Dever aimed to show her softer side, and Matthew J. Evans successfully weirded me out with his horrible poems and unfortunate name: Garrett Tiara.
All in all, the film is only worth a rental. Unless of course you need to watch Cameron wash a car (and herself) for about 2 minutes on a giant screen. Then again, you could do it in slow motion and with rewind if you rent it.

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