Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, who’s a shallow, crass woman who’s put all her eggs so to speak in the basket of the plain but rich love interest that she’s engaged to at the beginning of the story. So, as such, she’s kind of just skated by doing the bare minimum in the job she’s been doing which is a Junior High Teacher and in getting to know the rest of the faculty as she figures she’s not going to be doing this for very long. So, little does she know as she saunters off of the faculty parking lot at the end of the school year but her would be fiance with the advice of his mother has caught onto her little gold digging scheme.
So, fast forward to the fall and lo and behold Diaz’s character sputters up in a ratty subcompact where before she’d driven off the same lot in a luxury car. She lurches through another day in the grind of her life going through the motions again as before but with little of the motivation that carried her through that year where she carelessly slacked off as she counted the days until she could be rid of this humdrum existence. So, if she was slacking off before, what she does now is even more in that direction.
She tolerates her coworkers, actually getting to know them this time but not by choice of course. In particular, there’s the Gym Teacher, played by Jason Segel, who likes her but whom she barely paid attention to last year since he’s to her “merely” a gym teacher and so because of his lack of a large paycheck beneath her attention as compared to her rich fiance last year and the new rich substitute teacher that comes into the picture this year, played by Justin Timberlake; but with whom she flirts. She gets it into her head that the new gold digging target for her, the new substitute teacher, has a hankering for big breasts (presumably by the picture he shows her of his ex girlfriend who herself has big breasts) and so now has a new goal for herself, that is, gathering enough money so she can pay for a boob job, so she can attract Timberlake’s character and get involved with him romantically and eventually have him marry her and not herself have to worry about working anymore.
There are two problems with this plan of course, one being it’s another marry for money scheme that would get her the money that she needs to live, but won’t necessarily get her the happiness that she’s convinced herself to give up in order to gain the money, that potential happiness being made increasingly clear to her as she finds herself more and more attracted to the poor gym teacher than the rich but scatterbrained substitute. And the second is the other gold digging teacher across the hall from her, her chief rival for the heart of the substitute and all around pain in the butt goody-two shoes, a teacher named Amy Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch.
Diaz’s character decides to use her main assets, that is, her innate knowledge of how people think, combined with her sexy but fading charm and a little bit of manipulation on the side in order to finagle the funds to pay for the boob job, at the same time maneuvering to make sure her rival is unable to spend some key quality time with the substitute on a school trip but underestimates the guilt she feels when the gym teacher catches her in the act so to speak. Who does she choose? The man she loves? Or the man who can give her the most financial comfort?
The structure of the set up is kind of like a typical teenager story in high school with the parallels between the machinations and interactions of the teachers matching up with the prototype of the teenage girl in high school trying to decide between the handsome but clueless and crass jock and the sensitive and smart and funny kid who may not be as classically good looking and successful as the jock but who actually loves her for who she is rather than what she represents as a symbol or as piece of property. So, of course the whole idea is switched around with crass but now poor jock being the person who loves her and the sensitive and smart and rich but annoying nerd who she wants to get with but for all the wrong reasons.
There’s a fun-ness in the movie in the sheer crassness and laziness of Diaz’s character. She’s not the typical idealized version of what a good teacher often is shown as, as exemplified by the teachers in the films that she shows everyday in the earlier part of the school year in class to the students instead of actually teaching them anything. There’s also kind of an amusing quality to the way she’s constantly drinking and smoking pot and just completely ignoring all of the rules that normally characters in any movie or story are often tied down to as members of society. She cheats on school board tests and gets away with it; she smokes pot and drinks alcohol in class and doesn’t do her job and she gets away with it; she does a car wash lap dance on all the fathers’ cars splashing herself down like she was in a music video and then she siphons funds away from the proceeds and gets away with it; she’s basically kind of like the character of Ferris Bueller in how he gets away practically with murder and nothing happens to him. There’s just this kind of sick thrill that the audience gets I think with this sort of character set up where the audience surrogate, the main character, just goes through and breaks all the rules and there’s no story retribution that happens with the whole thing wrapped up in the bow of the framework of a love story.
RottenTomatoes gives this movie a 43% rating (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bad_teacher/) which is about right I’d say; the execution of this story set up is not perfect and that brings it down a little bit and there’s parts where they imply that Diaz’s character is a little bit on the racist side which doesn’t help; the guilty pleasure part of it I think balances the flaws out and the love story buoys it up even more. I’d say rate it a little higher if you’re willing to forgive the flaws and about there or lower if you’re being picky.