It’s not going to win any awards for inspiring students, but the R-rated comedy “Bad Teacher” manages to provoke a few guffaws in its examination of one woman behaving badly.
Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a middle-school teacher who can’t wait to leave the schoolbooks behind and marry her wealthy beau. But when her engagement falls apart, she’s back in the classroom again, planning to expend as little effort as possible teaching, but instead finding a new sugar daddy.
Halsey’s desire to marry rich and leave the world of teaching behind drives “Bad Teacher.” Her idea is that breast enhancement surgery will help her win the man of her dreams or, at least, the man with the pocketbook of her dreams. Across-the-hall teaching neighbor Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is driven and motivated — and maybe a bit unbalanced, as well.
When a new substitute teacher/heir to a watch fortune joins the school, Elizabeth and Amy find themselves in competition. Scott (Justin Timberlake) seems to be falling for Amy, but Elizabeth is sure it’s just her chest that he’s falling for.
She ups her plan to get enhancement surgery, finding funds wherever she can. When she finds out she can get a large bonus if her students do well on the state test, suddenly her desire to impart knowledge to her charges increases tremendously.
Gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) has feelings of his own for Elizabeth, but fears she’s going down a self-destructive path in her pursuit of Scott. Phyllis Smith (“The Office”) plays a supporting role as Lynn, a teacher who enjoys Elizabeth’s rebellion, but isn’t quite prepared to risk her own job.
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All of the principals have a facility with comedy, and “Bad Teacher” lets them rip loose with it. Elizabeth’s semidestructive path as a woman who just doesn’t care about anything outside her goal provides plenty of laughs as she breaks taboos and slips around authority. Punch, as the manic, straight-arrow Squirrel, is an excellent nemesis to Diaz’s bend-the-rules Elizabeth.
Segel is laconically charming, while Timberlake is snootily hilarious.
If, at points, there seems to be a message sneaking through — such as perhaps test scores aren’t the best way to measure a teacher, or that those who have charge of our children are underappreciated and underpaid — it’s subtle enough that most will be able to laugh right through it. “Bad Teacher,” like Elizabeth Halsey, isn’t going to go out of its way to make sure you get the lesson.