I had high hopes for this film, one because Justin Timberlake stars, and two because Jason Segel stars. They have been consistently funny in every film I’ve seen them in (as few as that may be) and they manage fairly good performances here as well. What’s unfortunate is that aside from the great gags seen in the trailer (the truely priceless argument Segel has with one of his students about LeBron James and Michael Jordon), this film falls desperately flat on jokes for the remaining hour and 20 minutes.
The story itself is workable, and in the beginning we see a narcissistic teacher, Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), quit her job so she can forever mooch off of her rich fiance. Her fiance catches on to her gold-digging ways and dumps her to the curb. So, back she goes to teaching in order to procure money for a boob job she thinks she needs to attract the money she wants. She could care less about the kids, and substitutes movies for a more substantial syllabus. It’s not until she realizes she can get a bonus for the highest test scores that she starts to buckle down and actually teach.
Diaz’s character comes off as a crude, hard, yet completely savvy individual perfectly capable of getting what she wants, and succeeding with little consequence. Perhaps that’s what makes this film special, and why so many other critics* are having problems accepting her character. For instance, in one plot line of the film, Elizabeth’s actions get another nosy teacher fired. There were other people suspicious about Elizabeth’s role in the firing, but she gets away with it anyway. And what’s more, Elizabeth returns the following school year in a better position then she started.
The lack of consequence, and Elizabeth’s caustic personality make her somewhat unlikeable but I’m confused by the comparisons being made between this film and others like it such as Bad Santa and Bad News Bears, both featuring an equally caustic Billy Bob Thornton. For some reason because Thornton plays the lovable loser, we as an audience can get past the growl in his voice. Apparently this doesn’t work for women.
I’m not saying Elizabeth is likable, but I don’t really care. In fact, I think it’s awesome that Elizabeth’s attitude doesn’t change because she finally got a job she’s good at and likes, or she has a man that likes her because she saw the error of her ways and changed into a “nice” person. I’m glad she’s a little rough around the edges at the end of the movie. She may not have much of a character arch, but it just seems real, and less like an after school special. What’s important is that at the end of the movie we see that she is on the road to toning down the aggressive aspects of her nature not by getting rid of anything, but by channeling it into a more appropriate endeavor.
While the film lagged a little in substance, I liked Elizabeth as a character that wasn’t nice, but who also advanced beyond being a bitch. I’m curious to see more female characters like her in the future. Seriously.
* Roger Ebert, Josh Tyler (Cinemablend), Owen Gleiberman (EW) To these critics I say-it’s completely possible for people to watch unlikable characters and love every minute of it. Just look at Mad Men. It’s the only argument I need.