"Bad Teacher" and the Downside of Equal Rights in Hollywood

From Tad Friend's New Yorker profile of Anna Faris (which Jezebel.com reblogged under the headline "Hollywood Insiders Admit Hollywood Hates Women") to the glass-ceiling-shattering pressure assigned to last month's Bridesmaids (which has thus far outgrossed every previous Judd Apatow project since Knocked Up), a case could be made that 2011 will be remembered as the year the film industry (finally!) acknowledged its institutional misogyny, took steps to reverse it, and even learned that letting chicks into the comedy loop can actually end up being profitable. Yay, right?

If a new era is dawning, Bad Teacher reminds us exactly why change is so desperately needed. Directed by Jake Kasdan (an Apatow comedy family cousin whose last film was Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and scripted by frequent Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, Bad Teacher focuses on a school year in the life of Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), an aging party girl once destined to be a trophy wife who instead ended up an incompetent middle-school English teacher, managing to hold on to her job only via coy manipulation. Dumped by one wealthy fiancé, Elizabeth goes looking for another and finds potential in Scott (Justin Timberlake), an heir who has altruistically signed up as a substitute teacher. Elizabeth must compete for Scott's affections with her perky, perfectionist white swan — history teacher Amy (Lucy Punch) — while first fending off and then (surprise!) slowly succumbing to the advances of schlubby gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel).

The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong women protagonists, Hollywood must hate women. But be careful what you wish for. Here, a "strong woman" means a lazy, lying, scheming, slutty, and obstinately materialistic one whose sole redeeming virtue is her hard body (which the camera shamelessly ogles, as if the men watching need their hand held to look at an actress' ass), who is so delusional that she thinks her ostentatious assholery is rock-star sexy, and whose delusions are essentially validated by narrative resolution.

Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz's backside.
Gemma LaMana
Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz's backside.

Details

Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, and Lucy Punch. Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated R.

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At least Bad Teacher offers opportunities to ponder an evergreen pop-culture conundrum: At what point do professional performers with evident talent and a proven ability to make smart choices realize they're trapped in a film that — due to lazy writing, style-free direction and visual design, and a general refusal to aim above the lowest common denominator — simply can't be good? What compels someone like Timberlake — so charismatically contemptible in The Social Network, so often a saving grace on SNL — to take a role centered on a cringe-worthy set piece involving him dry-humping his real-life ex-girlfriend? Are actresses like Diaz and Punch really cool with punishing material based on the worst male-invented stereotypes of the way women deceptively control men and compete with one another? If they're at all conscious of what they've gotten into, did they try to make it better, or did they submit to mediocrity because, you know, fuck it — the check cleared? Are they so far inside that they can't possibly gauge what the fix they're in might look like from the outside?

Jason Segel can, perhaps: He seems to have shown up on set carrying an enormous amount of weight, as if he's hoping to not be recognized. In a role hardly larger than a cameo despite the fact that he's ostensibly the male romantic lead, Segel never tries to hide that he's here only to pay his mortgage — which makes him the most likable presence onscreen. In just a handful of scenes, he comes close to saving the movie by injecting a much-needed dose of casual, naturalistic performance into the shtick, even as most of his dialogue consists of caustic asides and barbed flirting. Elizabeth's sole character growth comes from her gradual understanding that she and Russell are soul mates of sorts in that they've both figured out that sincerity is for suckers and thus subsequently live to fuck with people. That his agitation consists entirely of harmlessly sour, even charming verbal play directed at oblivious rubes while she gets her kicks from mounting pranks with severe real-world consequences is a moral discrepancy the film is content to leave unresolved.

You can't say Bad Teacher doesn't fulfill the basic promise of its genre; once the dust settles, boys and girls alike walk away with what they went looking for. But for Segel's character, "victory" doesn't seem like a good thing. Maybe this is a sign of progress after all: After a hundred years' worth of romances in which "heroes" are rewarded for their unrepentant shittiness with the affections of an ever-patient beloved, maybe it's the dude's turn to get the raw deal.

 
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22 comments
Bruce
Bruce

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Ali
Ali

I've only just got round to watching this film tonight and somehow happened to stumble on this article/review minutes afterward. I can say it's a fantastic film. It may not be breaking boundaries in cinematography but it doesn't try to so why write like it should be doing more than what it aims for?

Clearly Karina, you don't have a clue what you're talking about. I'm getting the picture that you merely watched the film solely to write something bad about it and you missed the fun boat along the way. 

Why must people continuously over-analyze ever piece of entertainment and say that it's doing the wrong thing or going in the wrong direction, film X has this hidden message and film Y is telling us yada yada yada. Shut up! Do us all (and yourself) a favour and stop polluting the world with your negativity. If you want the world to change then go about it in a positive way, do some volunteer work, donate some money to charity, get laid, or even better, write your own comedy story, pitch it to a film studio, get it produced and we'll have another (possibly funny) film to laugh at.

On another note, if you ever want people to take you seriously in what you write, learn to spell!

Johnny Rook
Johnny Rook

what eva it's a bad movie altogether anyway 

John_casey
John_casey

Nobody forced you to watch this movie. Stop trying to change the world to the way you, in all likelihood a religious freak, think it ought to be. Bear in mind, movies and other profanities that we get to enjoy are the only thing stopping us from beating the living sh*t out of you pompous dumb f*cks like you. Wanna make the world a better place? Stop your priests from touching little boys, then get back to me... Good luck on that one.

James
James

Single-minded writer. Get your head out of the clouds and realize it's just comedy.

Dazzyboy43
Dazzyboy43

its nothing to do with equal rights.....women cant make films as funny or as good as men yet....thats all, if they made them better and stop bitching about "why isnt my film grossing as much as others " ..watch the fucking thing and find out ! its not our falt that your best isnt good enough,your not as tallented as you think you are !!!!!!!!!

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Judy Lau

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tomcroftt
tomcroftt

Bad Teacher is a nice movie. It is an interesting story line. Cameron Diaz's plays good roll in it. Bad Teacher movie directed by Jack Kasdan. Bad Teacher focuses on a school year in the life of Elizabeth.

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Colie1018
Colie1018

it's a movie for goodness sakes, relax!

 

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