The title is very honest. Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is indeed a very bad teacher. And kind of a bad person in general. This is a comedy that takes full advantage of the possibilities licensed by its R rating, whose soul purpose is to make people laugh. That’s what a lot of comedies are designed to do; they’re not so concerned with character or even story development, they’re not really trying to be social commentaries or make a point or promote anything. Bad Teacher can certainly be labeled as a so-called “mindless comedy”, but nonetheless it does have messages that it (perhaps unintentionally) conveys.
Ms. Halsey hadn’t planned to make a career out of teaching. She thinks she’ll be able to retire after just one year because she’s marrying a wealthy man. But when he realizes she’s a gold-digger and calls it off, she’s forced to continue doing the bare minimum at a job she hates. (I know some people who would love to have her job, or any job, but that’s not funny so we’ll ignore it.)
Ms. Halsey states, “My full-time job is finding a guy who’s gonna take care of me.” To that end, she decides she needs a boob job, and raising the money for it becomes her sole motivation to actually try to get her students to learn something, (so she can win the bonus for getting the highest scores on the state test). But legitimate teaching takes too much effort. So she steals the test answers, of course! She also steals the school’s recycling and sells the contents of the lost and found tub to add a few bucks to her body modification fund. And lies to parents about privately tutoring their kids to get them to pay her under the table. And she wears terribly impractical shoes! Who wears six inch heels every day to teach?!
It’s not like the movie reinforces that having a sugar daddy or thinking you need surgery to be attractive are good ideas. She ends up with a fellow teacher-salary guy, (oh sorry, was that a spoiler? could you not guess that from the previews?) and in the end she doesn’t get the surgery. And the scene when she first brings up the idea is so uncomfortable, because she’s talking to a fellow teacher played by Phyllis Smith, (Phyllis from The Office), and says “You don’t know how hard it is to compete with these Barbie types!” Plump-bodied Phyllis looks down and mumbles “yeah…” So it’s pretty obvious that Ms. Halsey is not only incredibly vain but also completely oblivious to the needs and feelings of anyone around her.
That changes a little bit, because there are two whole kids that she ends up giving half-assed “tough love” (but really just played for laughs) advice to. So there’s that.
Meanwhile, there’s an ongoing rivalry between our Bad Teacher and the teacher across the hall, Ms. Squirrel, who is neurotic and tries to butt into everybody’s business and is maybe slightly paranoid and invades personal space and is definitely underhanded in some of her tactics, but who is actually dedicated to being a good teacher. She is actually right in everything she accuses Ms. Halsey of, but because she is annoying and because this is a comedy and because it’s simply called Bad Teacher and not Bad Teacher Learns Life Lesson, Changes For the Better, Ms. Squirrel is rewarded by being forced to transfer to another school. So the inherent message is, people who care about rules, regulations, and proper protocol and who are dedicated to their jobs are losers, and people who are clever enough to cheat and lie and hide alcohol and pot in their work desks are super cool winners. And they don’t need boob jobs, (if they already have a Cameron Diaz body.)
Yes, there were several parts that made me laugh, but there were just as many ‘oh gross/ew, awkward…’ moments, and in the end I was disapointed at the cosmic unfairness of Ms. Halsey’s character getting away consequence-free with so many terrible decisions and immoral/illegal/unwise/mean actions. Maybe that is partly the Hufflepuff in me talking, but I prefer it when justice is served. I was hopping for a comeuppance that never cameupped.