MOVIE REVIEW, 'BAD TEACHER' = Satire worthy of Chicago's Second City: Commie leftist pinko Hollywood Hoar Cameron Diaz makes a mockery of high-stakes testing... And some teachers don't get the joke!

Would any serious Illinois teacher miss a movie that proved the hypocrisy of the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT)*, debunked high-stakes testing and merit pay to loads of laughs, took on Illinois State Board of Education bureaucrats, and didn't have one bad word to say about "greedy teachers' unions"? Probably not. But apparently, if that movie is called "Bad Teacher" and stars nicely maturing Hollywood starlet Cameron Diaz, there seems to be a lot of "cluck, cluck, clucking" out there — and enough inability to get satire to put Chicago's Second City out of business. The best teacher movie in years came out at the end of the "Waiting for Superman" school year (2010 - 2011), and teachers still haven't been flocking to see it. We should. Now, while our summer is young.

[* Footnote: In "Bad Teacher," the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) becomes the IAT (Illinois Achievement Test), probably because of those ubiquitous copyright issues that test writers, Testocrats, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, billionaire Board of Education members, TFA (and KIPP) — and the Testocracy treasure. But, wonderfully, the cover is a virtual knockoff of the ISAT and Prairie State booklets, so the point is made, and Illinois is ubiquitous throughout the movie.]

SHOW ME WHAT BAD TEACHERS LOOK LIKE! THIS IS WHAT BAD TEACHERS LOOK LIKE could have been the chant as the summer of 2011 began. Bad Teachers, including Chicago Teachers Union members and officers Jesse Sharkey, Gabriella Iselin, Kristine Mayle, and Garth Liebhaber, are arrested after sitting in the middle of Stetson Drive outside the Pritzkers' Hyatt Regency Chicago Hotel during the Stand Up Chicago protests against corporate greed on June 14, 2011. As a result of the sanctimonious assault on teachers and teacher unions, more and more teachers across the USA are being bad and getting arrested in protests against teacher bashing, privatization, scabs, union busting, and the relentless attacks on public schools from the Republicans and the Obama administration. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.If you've been terrorized (or, worse, brainwashed) by the smarmy nonsense of movies like "Stand and Deliver" and the half dozen cartoon versions of "The Substitute," and finally recovered from your belief that Jaime Escalante was more than an anti-union self-righteous Republican asshole, you might be ready for "Bad Teacher." But first you have to get beyond the name of the movie "Bad Teacher". Sort of.

"Bad Teacher" couldn't be better timed, and its timing couldn't be better as a masterful work of comedy. Imagine, a movie that scuttles most of the hypocrisy of what might be dubbed "The Year of the Bad Teacher" — and doesn't even mention Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, where Barack Obama sends his own kids to school, or "Waiting for Superman." Imagine a movie that doesn't fall prey to the racist (as in, aimed at white guilt while pulling in millions of dollars and carefully dumping black kids of won't bring up your school's test scores) pieties of Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children's Zone), the platitudes of Wendy Kopp (Teach for America's chieftan), or the packaging of the latest KIPP marketing monstrosity (often as an Op Ed in some prominent major media outlet, preferably by a nationally famous pundit, say, David Brooks, of The New York Times and NPR...).

But let's get to the movie.

Did Cameron Diaz attend a real public school, a charter school, or a tony private school like the University of Chicago Lab School (Arne Duncan) or Sidwell Friends (the Obama children)? First person to answer where the above yearbook photograph was taken gets a two-year subscription to Substance.Cameron Diaz, who plays "bad teacher" Elizabeth Halsey, manages to create a dirty movie while keeping almost all of her clothes on virtually all of the time. How many movies could put Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in bed together in a sex scene where both of them have all their clothes on — and not be funny? The hotel room where they finally hook up takes place, wonderfully timed, while the two teachers (Elizabeth is full-time, possibly tenured; Scott is a sub) are chaperoning a field trip of seventh graders to Springfield, Illinois — to learn more about the Land of Lincoln and Honest Abe (more about that later). Timberlake shows his comedic talents in that scene in a way most actors would probably demand be cut from the script, but does his self-parody even better in a scene where he plays an aspiring singer who gets a chance to sit with "Fifth Period", the local teacher rock group. Timberlake's song ("Sympatico") would have brought cheers at Second City. How many movies starring Cameron Diaz (who will be 40 next year) can have the star removing her bra and not showing her tits (which are a major theme of the plot)? If you're going to this movie to see more of Cameron Diaz, get Charlie's Angels instead; that's how deft "Bad Teacher" is.

More than one literary critic has preached (except at my Alma Mater, the University of Chicago during the English Department's "Aristotelian" years back in the '60s and 70s), in fiction, character is action. Then with enough interesting characters ("major" and "minor") you can bring off anything (for the audience you choose; teachers know we have to choose carefully) from "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Ousiders" (two teen stories I taught repeatedly, usually to high school fresmen) to "Anna Karenina" and "Moby Dick" (two more developed stories I taught during my 28 years teaching English in Chicago's inner city high schools, until I was fired, sued for a million dollars, and blacklisted during the early days of America's hypocritical lurchings towards corporate "school reform").

An attentive teacher with attentive students (those who don't think they can "get" a complex narrative by watching Gregory Peck in the movie) can even have fun with the scene with Mr. Avery in "To Kill a Mockingbird" during the eleventh or twelfth time you teach that wonderful book to freshmen (without using the movie until well into the reading of the story). If you don't remember the scene with Mr. Avery, return to the Harper Lee version of Atticus, Jem and Scout.

And "Bad Teacher" has some of the best characters played for laughs all the way by some of the best currently working (and carrying union cards) in Hollywood today. If Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake aren't hauled before the Obama administration's version of HUAC (that's the old House Un-American Activities Committee from the days of the MaCarthy-era blacklist for those who aren't allowed to study history any longer) for their subversive activities aimed at high-stakes testing and merit pay, somebody is missing one of the best jokes on corporate "school reform" being played on the people who are trying to run and ruin America's public schools today. But think: By the time they finished making "Bad Teacher," Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, and Cameron Diaz had spent more time in real classrooms with real children than the U.S. Secretary of Education and most of his top staff.

Wearing capes and name tags that read "I am a public school teacher, talk to me" New York teachers (above) protested the premier of the teacher bashing movie "Waiting for Superman" on September 26, 2010, in Manhattan. Substance photo by John Lawhead.Diaz plays seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Halsey. At the movie's beginning, she's a gold digger of the classic school (think, maybe, Joan Crawford or Jane Russell, definitely not an ingenue like Marilyn Monroe). Elizabeth begins the movie saying good-bye to her colleagues at John Adams Middle school ("We're JAMin'") because she is going to get married to the (rich) guy of her dreams.

She arrives home from her last day of teaching (with a line to die for — remember, this is an adult comedy); she calls out "I hope you're hard because I'm gonna suck your dick like I'm mad at it." Instead of a fiancé, she finds that her fiancé has been corralled by Mom with some careful auditing of her recent spending. Mom, played wonderfully, had reeled in her son to protect him from a marriage that would need an iron clad pre-nup to keep him from losing the family jewels (pun intended). The family jewels of that family wind up safe, and three months later, in a much less ostentatious car, Elizabeth is back at her teaching job. So Elizabeth goes from being the red Mercedes sports car driving soon-to-be ex-teacher to another year at JAM.

And from the beginning, Elizabeth makes it clear that in her heartbreak (over losing a marriage made at Goldman Sachs, or at least made for Sachs Fifth Avenue) she isn't going to be bothered with teaching too much. She becomes the teacher-who-shows-movies. She begins with "Stand and Deliver," setting a little sub-plot that's delightful to anyone who asked the same question Elizabeth asked: "Have you seen Stand and Deliver" only to learn that most of your classes have seen "Colors" and "American Me" (and now The Wire) but not the smarmy Teacher as Superhero movies. Take a poll. More of your kids know the character Omar than know Jaime the superteacher teacher basher.

Morgan Freeman's role in Lean On Me is one of the many silly teacher movies that plays in the background of Bad Teacher. So Elizabeth "teaches" using a long list of movies, but her gold digging continues. Soon she is trying to corral "Scott," played manfully by Justin Timberlake, who lets on that his family owns the watch company that makes some of the world's most expensive watches. (Aside: Anyone looking to find a wealthy spouse in a public school teachers' lounge is probably ready for believing in the accountability brought about by standardized tests, but we can't digress for long here...). Elizabeth decides that Scott is going to be her next meal ticket, but she notes that he likes women with large boobs. So Elizabeth sets out to get a boob job to enhance her chances for another shot at the gold ring(s).

While Elizabeth tries to save her money for the enhancements, Scott is already being jiggled into place by someone who came about them naturally. One of the best performances of the movie (and there are many) comes from British actress Lucy Punch, who plays Amy Squirrel, the overachieving and relentlessly perky teacher across the hall from Elizabeth. Although, as comedy almost requires, the brushstrokes are broad, Punch's "Squirrel" is, well, squirrely in a way many can recognize. Punch's character might remind you of the teachers who came in from, say, TFA with all the answers, perkily upbeat too much for a Monday morning after you've had an enterprising weekend. You can tell Amy is destined for trouble — or to lead an Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) or the latest version of the same thing. I could almost picture her leading the mindless cheers as the kids walked into the school on TEST DAY, like happened in some Chicago schools during the past year.

Yes, in some schools across the USA today, some teachers actually don their old cheerleader outfits to cheer on the kids on TEST DAY. Bad Teacher may be fiction, but some of its best scenes could come as documentary. [Dear and gentle reader: Substance will make the video documentary of this Rah Rah nonsense, but the videos must be authentic. Contact our editor for more details].

The jargon is relentless and priceless. When they share lunchroom duty, Amy tells Elizabeth that she has proposed the "quadrant system" for managing the lunchroom — just as Elizabeth is trying to ignore the fact that a student has doused another with cole slaw ("Incoming!").

Most of the silly "Great Teachers Can Save the World" movies since the Reagan era get their just due, finally, in "Bad Teacher." Beginning hysterically with "Stand and Deliver." And even before the "Stand and Deliver" riff, "Bad Teacher" has warned the attentive viewer that this movie has absorbed the entire genre of sanctimonious super-teacher as hero movies. (In a couple of scenes, Diaz actually steals from the superteacher genre, either visually or verbally, sometimes both). Anyone who hasn't studied the "Scream" quadrilogy (or perhaps taught it, as Elizabeth does) might miss the scene where Ghostface does in the Fonz, but it's there in "Bad Teacher." Teachers in Chicago currently dealing with the latest idiocies of the Accountability epidemic might consider how Ghostface deals with school administrators. (Would Chicago's Area 11 tyrants really be so bold if...).

When "Elizabeth" (Cameron Diaz), left, and "Amy" (Lucy Punch, right) square off in the climax of "Bad Teacher" in the principal's office at JAM, the two have been playing off each other successfully for most of the 90 minutes of the film. Despite a strong performance, Punch never tries to upstage Diaz, and as a result, the two make a very good comedy team. For those who remember the day when comedians like Lenny Bruce could be arrested (especially in Chicago) for using any of the famous six words, "Bad Teacher" lets it all out. Five of the six are repleted throughout "Bad Teacher."

But one of the ironies is the movie is "R" for language, and not (really) for sex. The only time the audience sees forbidden body parts is at the plastic surgeon's office, and that scene is one of the most delightful ever put on screen. The boob enhancement doctor is famous for his fingers, Elizabeth is told. Elizabeth is allowed to fondle while sampling the product she's about to purchase, but she is soon set back by 21st Century capitalist medicine.

Part of the comedy consists of the various jokes within the jokes, and the allusions to some of the smarmiest teacher movies in the bin (both verbal and physical). Was that a riff on Michelle Pfeiffer? Did that song really come out of "Stand and Deliver," or was it from that more popular (at least in the inner city where I taught) Edward James Olmos movie "American Me" — or maybe it was from "Color" (which all the kids except the National Honor Society have seen and none of the teachers)? And how do we suddenly get the Henry Winckler scene from "Scream 4" in a 7th grade classroom?

But there are also complete comedic innovations that should live long. At various times, Elizabeth gives her co-workers the reasons for her break up with her ex. They range from "I caught him in bed with his sister" (mild) to "I caught him trying to fuck the dog. There was peanut butter all over the place..." Carmeon Diaz throws off lines like that like she's been waiting years for the chance. Thank you, Second City and Lenny Bruce.

In one vignette, Elizabeth is facing Amy, and Amy gushes "Maybe this year we can be more than across the hall mates," and Elizabeth says, with a straight face, "I don't eat muff sandwiches." Amy's puzzled look completes the scene.

Without asking the screenwriters why they gave their characters the names they did, I have a hunch that the principal (named Snur) was not an accidental characterization.

And there is a scene where Amy has a conference with her principal in a location that only comedic genius could have thought up. Punch brings it off perfectly, stealing a scene where Elizabeth is nowhere to be seen (and sitting in a location that no woman has gone before).

The central joke of "Bad Teacher" comes when Elizabeth, who is trying to raise $10,000 for that boob job, realizes she has to save a lot of money to pay for it. On a middle school public school teacher's salary? At first, she resorts to speciality work at the school car wash (wearing Daisy Dukes and riffing straight out of Dukes of Hazard). She also convinces some parents to pony up for "tutoring".

But saving so much money on a short deadline on a classroom teacher's salary just isn't doing it (when she she hears at the surgeon's office that she would have to pay $10,000 for the breastwork, she tells the clerk, "I'm a teacher, not a drug dealer").

Then she learns about bonuses and merit pay, straight out of the world of Arne Duncan, Jean-Claude Brizard, the Broad Foundation, Race to the Top, and the current Chicago Board of Eduction. Elizabeth has discovered motivation, entrepreneurship, and innovation, just as Arne wanted. Elizabeth learns that one teacher in the school will get a $5,700 bonus for getting the highest scores on the Illinois Achievement Test from her class.

Hopefully, real teachers won't utilize Elizabeth Halsey's method of using dodgeball to motivate middle school students to read "To Kill a Mockingbird" more carefully. But the scene, like so many in "Bad Teacher," is memorable.Suddenly, Elizabeth shifts gears from burnout to Jaime Escalante. She will drill and kill her kids to get their scores up and get that bonus. She soon realizes that with her students — confronting "To Kill a Mockingbird" — it's going to take more than Escalante's "ganas" to juice up the test scores. Even with a new angle on dodge ball during quizzes on Atticus Finch, she can't get their scores up as high as she knows they need to go.

Finally, she realizes what many have before her (and which has Georgia reeling during the third week of "Bad Teacher"). So she resorts to skulduggery, posing as a Chicago Tribune reporter ("Marjorie Goodman" — in the "Annie Wig") to get a copy of the IAT Answer Key from a state bureaucrat. This couldn't be better, both for its satire on political correctness and for the Tribune angle itself (you have to assume that the Tribune can't copyright and restrict everything about itself, despite its wonts). At this point, it would be fun, but not fair, to give away some of the better moments in the story, so just a few more points.

There are as many allusionry layers in this film as layers in a large Vidalia onion. One of the parents during the parents' night in Elizabeth's classroom is "Ronnie" (Remember Ronnie the hot young prosecutor from "The Wire"?). Other cameos by recognizable actors and actresses add to the fun. You get the feeling some people wanted to get into this film, knowing how much fun it was going to be.

In "Bad Teacher," Cameron Diaz doesn't hesitate to look her age (she'll be 40 the year the Chicago Teachers Union negotiates its next contract) in many of the shots in "Bad Teacher."The movie's ending works pitch perfect, for my money, and hopefully for other teachers.

After we've tyrannized for the past quarter century by the superteacher movies that kept repeating over and over and over that all we needed to succeed with the poorest and most exploited families that modern capitalism can destroy is a belief that "All children can learn," we all need "Bad Teacher."

Some teachers reading this might remember back in the eighties, when Wall Street began repeating that "All children can learn..." nonsense, some of us thought it was a joke: "Gee. Why didn't I think of that?" we responded, as if we didn't know that, or had missed it over the years. The fact is, just as all children can learn, all children are learning. But in certain environments like Chicago (or the fictional Baltimore in "The Wire") what they are learning is based firmly on the reality created for poor children by capitalist America in the late 20th and early 21st Century.

I once asked the class, like Elizabeth, how many of them had seen "Stand and Deliver." "That's the movie the teachers always make us watch," they joked. Well, how many had seen "Colors." Almost all the hands went up. For years, Chicago's neighborhoods were replete with kids with street names like "Puppet" and "L'il Puppet" — not "Escalante." And just about every hard core gang kid, some as young as middle school, knew the "rice face" scene from "American Me".

"American Me" might be the truly coming-of-age-and later classic movie by Edward James Olmos. You'd better not show it in school without serious parental permission — although most of the kids in certain locations have seen it before they reach high school.

And then there is that famous Samuel L. Jackson teacher movie "187" that still haunts me. I was the only teacher in Chicago history to call in a real "187" on a CPS walkie talkie following a real murder outside Bowen High School in December 1997 — dead kid outside the school, 9 mm hole right in the middle of his forehead; the paramedics showed me the exit wound in the rear of his skull, a little grey nub, before I called in the confirmed 187 to my principal at Bowen High School. These gritty urban reality movies are still available. Like "The Wire" (especially the third season, which deals with schools, school bureaucracies, and testing), they provide a different response to the teacher bashing and union busting agendas of "Stand and Deliver" and all its successor superteacher movies.

Just as much of the worst Hollywood nonsense — from the Marva Collinas Hoax (which Substance exposed 25 years ago) and "Stand and Deliver" during the Reagan Years to some of the "Waiting for Superman" silliness — was field tested in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, where there is always an "inner city" school to film in, Illinois is a great place to set and see "Bad Teacher."

As to the very ending, some might argue it's pure Hollywood, although certainly not a traditional Cinderella story. When Elizabeth does finally hook up with Mr. Right, his final gesture (some quick and deft tongue action from Justin Segal, who plays a subversively intelligent and irreverent gym teacher) says it all. Some pleasures have to be enjoyed with your clothes off, but the great thing about this brief exchange is that it takes place with everyone fully clothed in the school hallway.

As if you had to know what a "Muff sandwich" is to know what he's talking about without saying a work — and why Elizabeth is smiling as she goes to her new job at JAM as a guidance counselor.

Lenny Bruce may have died young so that movies like this could be made by new generations of talented women (and men) who followed him to Hollywood. In a year when sanctimony has been piled on and deep in the teacher bashing public discussion of teachers and teaching (continuing a quarter century of attacks on those of us who know that imperfection works better than stupid demands for "greatness"), "Bad Teacher" provides audiences with the Lenny Bruce moment we all need. Maybe now it's possible to get back to the jobs we may love while we prepare, like Elizabeth with the poison ivy and the apple, to deal with those who will, well, we have to say it, Fuck with us. In many ways, "Bad Teacher" is telling them all — from Jean-Claude and Rahm, to Arne and Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates — to, well, Fuck off.


July 2, 2011 at 3:42 PM

By: Jim Cavallero

Cameron Diaz' High School

My internet research says that Cameron Diaz attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School.

July 4, 2011 at 4:49 PM

By: J. Whitfield

The funny movie

While on the phone, while imitating a tribune reporter, she states that she wants to talk to him about reported bias in his Illinois Achievement tests. Though something most unlikely that the trib would speak up about, it was something often spoken of during the sixties and seventies, with the "black power" and "chicano power" movements to name a couple, advocating for, to name a couple, those that needed(and still need to be ) to be empowered.

But sadly, little spoken of this day and age, unfortunately, except among certain circles.

Others too, would speak out about bias in testing, even white professors in advanced Ed. psyche classes.

So I agree with the film critic, that this movies mocks the abusive use of tests, preying upon children with special needs, children that have grown up in dire poverty.

Or others that may be literate in, or know BEV, Black English Vernacular, also known as Ebonics, or are dominant in Spanish, and are ELL, English Language Learners. I learned from students, or was it graffitti what "bus down" meant while at Orr HS, a decade or so ago, and was even slow on picking up, "my bad", but finally did from my daughter. And I don't consider it a liability to know Spanish, or another language first, to be a liability, but when a child is forced to take an achievment test, and then shown poor results, that is where the abuse comes in, in part. Though students with enough years of english, once they become completely bilingual will often outscore their English only counterparts.

The real lucky students are the ones who have parents who see how such tests are worthless in other ways, though they might not necessarily be biased towards their own culture.

The part that caught me laughing out loud, was when the teacher jumped at the opportunity to make $ off the possibility of her students doing well

on the tests, to be able to gain extra pay for her pending "tit job."

One thing I'd like to know, is how some Spanish speakers feel about a not so hispanic looking actress, but with a Spanish last name, Diaz,

playing the role of the bad teacher. That is, being shown smoking dope, etc. Though she looks white, many immediately think of her as Latina, as my spouse, a Latina just, said to me,

Cameron Diaz is Colombiana, something I did not know. She opted to go see the new "transformers" with my son, made in downtown Chicago.

What do you think?

July 4, 2011 at 8:41 PM

By: Fatima Cuadra de Whitfield

"My bad, Cameron is Americana"

My mistake, on google, it states that Cameron Diaz was born in San Diego.

July 4, 2011 at 11:17 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

Schmidt's review possibly as funny as the movie

Who would have thought that this movie was great satire Thanks for the info, George. Now I've gotta see the movie. I don't know when I've so enjoyed a movie review.

BTW, is "hoar" in the title a spelling mistake or something I don't know? At not even 40, Diaz can hardly be described at hoary.

All the stories on the home page all new?! Some awesome reading ahead.

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