Bad Teacher is a solid, consistently funny comedy. It doesn’t quite go all the way into dark comedy but it’s unapologetically cynical and that makes for good laughs.
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a relentless antihero. She’s saving up for a boob job so she can better attract rich guys in bars. Her old fiancé caught onto her motivations so she has to resort to her teaching job until she picks up a new sugar daddy. Wristwatch heir Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) seems like a good prospect but he’s more interested in good girl teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch).
With an R-rating, Elizabeth can talk about going down on a guy. She can smoke, speed on the road, and spit out the cookies her students kindly bake for her. She insensitively tells a kid why he’s not getting laid, and she’s right. Basically, her vulgar indifference towards the kids is cynical enough to be funny. It could go darker, but it’s funny.
Her bad teaching isn’t so shocking as it is blatant. She shows movies in class so she can just zone out. Scamming parents for tutoring money is pretty outrageous. She only steps up to teach when she’s motivated by a bonus for high test scores. Then she gets even worse. Her paper grading is really funny.
There was a TV show in the ‘90s that kind of did this. “Drexell’s Class” had Dabney Coleman as an alcoholic schoolteacher. I remember it being pretty funny and there were complaints about exposing children to that bad behavior. Obviously it’s okay to do the same premise 20 years later in an R-rated movie, and Bad Teacher compares favorably.
Squirrel becomes the nemesis in an ‘80s movie goody goody way and Punch sells the hell out of it. Her bathroom talk with principal Snur (John Michael Higgins) is funny and there are good old fashioned poop jokes. Jason Segal is funny as the gym teacher Russell Gettis, pretending to take the other teachers’ insignificant concerns ultra urgently.
The film definitely handles the story right. There are no big shenanigans in the end. They just resolve the character relationships. Most importantly, nobody learns any lessons! Elizabeth almost realizes a lesson but then she shakes it off. So no morals, no contrived plot, just jokes.