Friday, June 24, 2011

The Love/Hate Continues for 'Bad Teacher'

I don't know. I'll watch a trailer for 'Bad Teacher' and think, 'that's funny as hell' one second and, 'man, there's no way this material will play' the next. I'm hoping it will be good. I want it to be good. It looks good...kinda, mostly. There's a definite squirm factor here.

If this one hits it would make for two bad-girl comedies in a row coming after the rauch-fest 'Bridesmaids'. A move in the right direction to be sure. At least, I think so. I'm so tired of candy-ass girly comedies that flirt with funny but are too scared to cross the line (or even toe the line) of political incorrectness, as if that would be too unladylike to consider. Comedies with central characters which are male go there. They don't just cross the line they stomp it into the dirt and dance on the other side. Movies with female characters, by and large, at least in the past, have daintily sidestepped such controversy. The comedy falls flat, is too safe, boring, and often the movie gets anemic box office as a result which, in turn, gives rise to protests of bias against movies with female leads.

Aren't we passed that? I'm thinking we are, or should be. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and crew were. Looks like the folks that made 'Bad Teacher' were, as well. However, the film's edgy sensibility is drawing fire.

Karina Longworth (a woman, it should be noted) contends Diaz's portrayal is a step backward for movies with female leads, saying in her write up 'Bad Teacher and the Downside of Equal Rights in Hollywood':

The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong lady 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’s ass), who is so delusional that she thinks her ostentatious assholery is rock-star sexy, and whose delusions are essentially validated by narrative resolution.

Diaz's character, a middle school teacher, drinks (at work), sleeps it off (at work), drops the f-bomb (at work), calls her students stupid to their faces, etc. Behavior that would get you fired. The world the movie inhabits is too preposterous (and offensive) to accept. And, that's the point. 'Bad Teacher' is once removed from reality. It lives in a space that allows its protagonist the freedom needed to behave in an impossibly outrageous manner which, in turn, provides the foundation needed for comedy to breathe.

Kofi Outlaw at ScreenRant decodes the problematic premise:

The first question you should probably ask yourself is whether or not the premise of Bad Teacher is something you can even accept. If you’re the type of person to be easily offended by the idea of a teacher abusing the education system and her students -- or the type to get stuck on the question of how a person with few scruples and no morals gets hired as a middle school teacher in the first place, then this film will be impossible for you to enjoy.

That established, he continues:

This sort of “quest” structure allows Bad Teacher to do the only thing it does well: treat viewers to a collection of segments in which the cast is able to get zany and over-the-top in their delivery of the funny. Each of the characters is seriously strange, and the movie has a lot more “WTF?” type laughs than “LMAO!” type laughs.

Seems just about right to me. 'Bad Teacher' looks very 'WTF'. Totally.

Roger Ebert did not like it but for reasons that are both confusing and yet fall in line with some reviewer's comments:

"Bad Teacher" immediately brings "Bad Santa" to mind and suffers by the comparison. Its bad person is neither bad enough or likable enough. The transgressions of Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) are more or less what you'd expect, but what's surprising is that she's so nasty and unpleasant. Billy Bob Thornton, as the Bad Santa, was more outrageously offensive and yet more redeemed by his desperation. He was bad for urgent reasons. Elizabeth seems bad merely as a greedy lifestyle choice.

My favorite assessment comes, surprisingly, from Manohla Dargis (another woman, it should be noted). Don't know why, but I just thought she wouldn't like the film. She says:

In “Bad Teacher,” a breezily crude comedy about unladylike pleasures like guzzling booze, swearing at children and being mean because, well, you can be, Cameron Diaz taps into her inner thug. It’s a beautiful thing. A performer with a gift for light comedy and a comically ductile face that can work in fascinating counterpart to her rocking hot body (as her character would say), Ms. Diaz has found her down-and-dirty element in the kind of broad comedy that threatens to get ugly and more or less succeeds on that threat.

If you can accept that the elementary school setting is a comedic platform not to be taken seriously, the offensive behavior of the character (an emotionally shattered woman who was just dumped by her sugar-daddy fiancé who has to scramble to secure a new meal ticket by any means necessary) might seem funnier. On the other hand, if you're offended by the premise you shouldn't see the movie.

But, for some, setting and character may be so closely intertwined that the fact that one is clearly farcical does not nullify the shocking reality of the other, and the result is they take offense. For those people having the story unfold in an elementary school makes the character's behavior unpalatable even though it seems funny and they want to laugh. Diaz's character's criminal lack of regard for others would be funny, way funny, if it occurred in any place other than an elementary school.

I'll hazard a guess that's probably why there's such a split in the opinions of reviewers. Some like the movie for its raunchiness, some hate the movie because of its raunchiness. It's a matter of perspective.

'Bad Teacher' may be good, or bad. It may have script issues, or it could be brilliant. But, at least they went there. They tried. They had the balls to execute edgy material in a movie with a female lead and not play it safe. For that I'm glad. We need more movies with smart, funny women. Like those gals in 'Bridesmaids' (I think someone called them "smart and funny"). If 'Bad Teacher' helps pave the way, that's a victory.


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