Dear Bad Teacher,
It’s hard to explain comedy, be it successful or unsuccessful. Comedy is one of the more subjective arts, and to try to describe the reason behind a gut reaction to a joke often robs the joke of its effectiveness. If you have to explain a joke, you’ve already lost the comedy war. This makes a comedy movie very difficult to review in any real and meaningful way, because all of the style, visual acumen, and symbolic weight and meaning that usually inform my opinion all pale before the one monolithic question that will decide success or failure:
Did you laugh?
And with that as my sole metric, I can say with certainty that you are a good movie, a movie worth seeing. You made me laughed early and often, and I feel as though I may have missed certain jokes because everyone I saw you with was laughing loud enough to drown out your audio. That, more than anything else, is a massive testament to your worthiness as a movie.
However, there are secondary facets to take into account. Comedy is many things to many people. So what on earth are you to me? What about you was so effectively comedic? From a narrative standpoint your plot is vaguely chuckle-worth at best: a teacher who doesn’t like teaching just wants to find a man to take care of her, and so she seeks money to get the breast implants she thinks will help land said sugar daddy. Keeping her from reaching this goal is her enemy, an eternally perky, unshakably upbeat super teacher who will stop at nothing to expose her. The potential is there, but what about you pushes this idea over the edge into actual success?
First and foremost, you acquit yourself with a compliment of actors that sink their teeth deep into their roles and never let go. These are not people who wink at the camera, but fully fleshed out characters who treat their various comedic maladies with complete earnestness. I have said before and will continue to say that the best comedies are those in which the characters do not know they are funny. From Cameron Diaz’s titular subpar educator on down through even the smallest bit part, you create a cast of characters that contain bottomless mines of oddity and weirdness, all of which you gleefully exploit for laughs both simple and uncomfortable.
Diaz in particular proves her meddle as a comic actress here, turning in a surprisingly fearless performance. As a woman who lives off of romantic comedies, it is fun and exciting to see her dig in and play a spiteful, superficial, unapologetic bitch. Her willingness to play up the vulgarity of her character’s sexuality, personal ambition and narcissism is thrilling and makes us vicariously invigorated by her up front nature. Juxtaposed against her hyperactive, uber-teacher nemesis this only becomes more pronounced and enjoyable.
Best of all, though, is your irreverence and extremity. You are an equal opportunity prankster, weilding your comedic ax as a means of cutting down absolutely anyone who makes an easy target. Since your protagonist is such a self-centered narcissist, it makes sense that she would turn her bile and wit against anyone who she deemed to be either in her way or simply nonessential to her ends. Yet, somehow, all of this came off as the characters being mean, rather than you as a movie being mean yourself. When everyone is a target it is hard to have your feelings hurt because really you’re just like everyone else – fodder for the laughs.
And when it comes to following the old comedic axiom of going too far and then going just one step further, you excel to a degree that is almost reckless and yet wholly effective. Just when I thought a gag had crossed a line, you took it one extra step that made its power and potency all the more visceral. Two scenes spring to mind immediately – one involving a bathroom, and the other a very awkward love scene. Each of these is a testament to your director, Jake Kasdan’s, comedic sensibilities. We have seen scenes like these before, and yet you find ways of making them so weird, so otherworldly in their oddness that they feel fresh and unique.
But to explain a joke is to kill a joke, and thus I must leave you, glowing with my praise, as I chuckle to myself thinking about all of the various aspects of you that made me laugh. Will I ever see you again? Definitely. I have to. I think that I probably missed about a quarter of your jokes, lost as they were beneath a riotous sea of well-deserved laughter.
You definitely make the grade,
Brian J. Roan