Thursday 30 June 2011

Bad Teacher: Actually Pretty Good!

It is an understatement to say that I was dragging my feet to see Bad Teacher. The trailer was amusing,  but the reviews were mostly unkind. And yet what a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. I have always been a fan of Cameron Diaz, with her crazy persona transcending her good looks. But she had not found a good part, or even a hit for a good ten years now.

Along came Bad Teacher, a raunchy new comedy that sees her play a gold-digging, awful teacher: she sleeps in class, drinks, smokes pot, swears and her idea of education consists of showing her class Scream. On the slippery slope to becoming slighty past it as years are going by, she seems to have finally hit the jackpot and bagged herself a rich man. But then she gets dumped and has to go back to what she hates the most: teaching. There must be a way out!

It seems that the recession has given a shot in the arm of American comedy, which makes sense. When times are good and prosperous, there is actually little need to laugh and escape reality. But with a long and deep recession hitting America, the country seems finally ready to embrace riskier, more adult comedies, that are not afraid of gross out jokes and sex. It is almost as if the audience, with most of it suffering from the economy one way or another, just cannot be bothered to be prude any longer. And Bad Teacher is a proper grown up comedy, with several laugh out loud moments.

Indeed, in what will be the final nail in the coffin of the Sex and the City era, where the worst thing that could happen to a woman (especially in the last few seasons and the movies) was to break her Manolos and be dumped, first Bridesmaids and now Bad Teacher are not afraid of showing their female characters seriously hit rock bottom. Both films feature down on their luck grown up women with an uncertain career, barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, and having to suffer the ignominy of housesharing, one with a pair of dodgy British brothers and sisters, the other with a scary biker.

It was an inspired decision not to make the character a younger and ambitious woman on her way up. Instead, despite all the horrors that she commits, and this is to a large extent due to the talent of Cameron Diaz, we still, despite ourselves, cannot help but root for her. She is not afraid of playing a character who, despite getting too old for this sort of things, will stop at nothing to get her way. Yet, despite using some very questionable methods to get there,  she is simply trying to improve her lot from, we are guessing, some humble origins (and indeed she is shown having no family to spend Christmas with). There is something cathartic about her f&*k you attitude, among all the hypocrisy she faces, doing and saying all the things we would love to do but are too afraid of. She is in practically every scene and just owns the film.

There is some very decent support from the rest of the cast, with a special mention to rising British actress Lucy Punch, as a rival teacher, who seems to be making a speciality of crazy characters after her turn in Dinner for Schmucks. And Jason Segel is giving one of his loveable, good guy performance he has mastered to perfection.

So not everything works. Justin Timberlake's character, despite the singer's obvious acting talent, is badly drawn and is more of a plot device than a real character. And a rather too abrupt character transition in the final act almost made me wonder if a whole reel had gone missing, with an ending that will not satisfy everybody. But if you have seen Bridesmaids for the third time already and are craving for a new comedy, why not give this one a go.

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