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Chicago middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) hates her job, and her students, and her co-workers, but has found her way out of her situation – she’s going to marry a rich man. The plan goes awry when her fiancé notices how much of his money she’s spending and dumps her (at the behest of his mother). Elizabeth finds herself single, and back working at the school. While suffering through class hung-over, and between fits of cursing out her students, Elizabeth meets substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), the heir of a watch company fortune, and decides to seduce him. Being an incredibly shallow person she decides that a breast enlargement is a surefire way to Scott’s heart, and begins hatching schemes to raise $10,000 for the procedure. Meanwhile she makes an enemy out of goody-two-shoes colleague, and shuns the advances of Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), the school’s PE teacher, who is a much more obvious romantic fit.

Bad Teacher
Given the fact that both my parents and my stepmother are teachers, along with several of my friends, and that I’m a generally pleasant person that cares about education, I was especially frustrated with the right wing’s recent, despicable vilification of teachers, and assumed Bad Teacher was some kind of irresponsible cash-in on the idiotic movement. This was, of course, an idiotic, knee-jerk reaction on my part, as the film had obviously been in production for some time, and its only real political crime was bad timing. But I’m honest enough to admit that these false assumptions likely coloured my outlook on the film altogether, and that this review may suffer unfair prejudices as a result. The reality of Bad Teacher’s politics are pretty clear from the outset, as Elizabeth complains that she took the job with the expectations of short hours and summers off, and that the actual trials of the career vex her. At the same time the filmmakers don’t take it easy on teachers, and aren’t afraid to make fun of the profession. If they’d pulled punches it would have fallen way out of context with the rest of the comedy. And they’re savvy enough to know what buttons to push, even if the joke wears thin relatively quickly. Probably the best joke in the entire film is the ongoing series of movies Elizabeth shows her class before she starts actually trying to teach them. Following school related cinematic ‘classics’ like Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds, she runs out of inspirational movies, and shows Scream, part of which takes place in a school.

Bad Teacher is written by The Office alumni Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, and it certainly shows in the overall comedic tone, along with the character make-up. Our leads are made-up of impossibly sweet people, and impossibly sociopathic people we’re forced to like in spite of ourselves. The freedom of an R-rating opens them up to a lot more in the way of obscenity, and they rip into the possibilities pretty early in the film, including a whole lot of cursing, and a refusal to skirt the whole naked breast issue that should go along with their boob-job plot point. Eventually the novelty wears off and they set into their comfort zone, which unfortunately leads them into a more serialized style of storytelling, which doesn’t work very well for a single film runtime. Director Jake Kasdan (son of Empire Strikes Back writer, and Silverado director Lawrence Kasdan) does a decent job moving the film along (this extended version certainly slows the pacing), but the story slows substantially after about 30 or 40 minutes. Still, like many harmless, but R-rated modern comedies ( Role Models, I Love You Man, just about anything by Judd Apatow) the film’s strengths are mostly found in the characters, not in the filthy bits, or the droningly predictable plot. We all know exactly where these folks will end up by the end of the film, and much of the more heavy-handed physical comedy falls flat, but the honest, occasionally even touching character interactions work relatively well as standalone sequences.

Bad Teacher
The overall performances, like the writing and direction, are A-okay without overstepping into officially good ground. Elizabeth is an almost impossibly ideal role for the gracefully aging, but not wildly popular Cameron Diaz at this point in her career. She’s never been a particularly strong dramatic actress (screams Gangs of New York), but she’s always had comedic chops and timing, and successfully revels in the chance to make fun of herself. Lucy Punch (who’s apparently going to play Deana Pilgrim on FX’s new series based on Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers) overdoes it a bit, but also garners some of the biggest laughs. She’s easy to root against, despite the fact that she never really does anything wrong, and would be an easy fit for the protagonist of most romantic comedies (turning the audience against her is one of the film’s more clever achievements). Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake do quite a bit of comedic heavy lifting with minimal effort, and John Michael Higgins and Phyllis Smith do their part to punctuate the laughs. The only thing missing from the cast are outstanding kid performances, the kind we’ve come to perhaps unfairly expect from ‘adult’ films involving child casts thanks to filmmakers like Terry Zwigoff and Richard Linklater. This is less the effect of weak acting on the kids’ parts, and more of a problem with Bad Teacher not being an ensemble piece, leading to weak child characterizations.

Bad Teacher

Video


Bad Teacher isn’t a particularly aggressively stylized film, so I don’t have a lot to say here other than this 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer effectively exacts the look of a moderately budgeted 35mm film. Director Jake Kasdan and cinematographer Alar Kivilo utilize a lot of source lighting, and maintain a relatively natural, consistent palette. Most of the sets are clearly real locations, and feature minimal texture and decoration, but there are plenty of minor, poppy colour highlights per composition. The costumes are often solidly coloured, specifically Diaz, who wears a lot of blood red and crushed blue. These bolder hues cut pretty nicely against the more subdued backgrounds. There are some minor edge enhancement and blooming effects on the hardest colour edges, but nothing serious. The image is clean overall, with minor grain, but almost nothing in the way of digital artefacts. Detail levels aren’t terribly sharp thanks to some middling focus practices, but complex patterns are smooth, without major aliasing effects. Contrast levels are also relatively subtle, but blacks and whites are still quite kosher.

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is, like the HD video, overall unimpressive, but gets the job done. The general volume level is a bit lower than I’ve come to expect from uncompressed mixes, but there’s no sign of compression side effects or distortion otherwise. The soundtrack is simple for the most part, depending mostly on Michael Andrews’ whimsical score and other musical additions (which often feature heavy bass drum elements), and basic dialogue. The dialogue is clear and consistent, and the music is rich without a lot of surround enhancement, excepting sequences where the music comes from a distinctive on-screen source like a car stereo, or the DJ booth at a school dance. The school halls and classrooms feature a bit of stereo and surround ambience, outdoor scenes feature effective wind and chirping bird effects, and a single bar scene opens up the channels to some basic directional support.

Bad Teacher

Extras


The brief extras start with ‘Jams Yearbook Hidden Moments’, a database of 12 character bios that include a photo, interests, quotes, and a brief mixed montage of behind the scenes and in movie moments. This is followed by a gag reel (5:00, HD), four outtakes (3:50, HD), and six deleted/extended scenes (5:40, HD). ‘Way Behind the Scenes with Jason and Justin’ (5:40, HD) is an amusing staged interview bit between Segel and Timberlake who awkwardly bicker as a cow moos in the background. The extras are finished off with a series of featurettes including ‘Raising More than Funds’ (3:30, HD), a fluffy interview segment with the cast and crew concerning the car wash scene, ‘A Very Odd Blacksmith Story’ (2:10, HD), where co-writer Lee Eisenberg pretends that the film is actually about his cameo character, a blacksmith, ‘Swimming with the Dolphins’ (3:40, HD), a discussion concerning actor John Michael Higgins, and ‘Good Teacher’ (4:00, HD), an occasionally tongue in cheek discussion with the cast and crew about what makes a good teacher, and a selection of trailers. The disc also features an extended footage marker that pops up during the unrated version, which was quite valuable in the name of saving time.

Bad Teacher

Overall


Bad Teacher sometimes feels like an underdeveloped television pilot, and other times it drones on like an overlong Saturday Night Live skit. The final effect is something that sits directly in the center of the quality spectrum. It’s entirely average. Its bad moments aren’t that bad, and its good moments aren’t that great. The film’s modest stylistic aims keep the video and audio quality somewhere around adequate as well, and the minimal but entertaining extras impress just enough to satisfy base expectations. Average all around, and worth a rent for fans of the actors.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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