Bad Teacher: Cameron Diaz as Monster Lite

Bad Teacher is not going to save anybody’s life.  Cameron Diaz as our very bad teacher is mostly a tiny monster. She tells kids they suck, she steals from the school car wash, and she strangely comes up with the idea to rub poison ivy on another teacher’s apple.  And this is extreme stuff for us American audiences. For all the gross-out humor of Bridesmaids, we still don’t like to see our lady protagonists getting ethically nasty.  I think of what the Brit version of Bad Teacher would be and get simultaneously high, and a case of the hives.  It would be rough. A funny, wickeder version of Notes on a Scandal.

At it’s best, Bad Teacher is a takedown of the Teach for America squeak and bounce, with a healthy knock to the mishmash of generic hoopla we expect of the “nurturing” professions.   At one point, Diaz’s Craigslist roommate comes home to find her eating a corn dog. “I thought you were going out with all the other nurses,” he says. “I’m not a nurse,” she says. “I thought you were a nurse.” More of this, please.

The trope of Diaz not nurturing her students ultimately becomes stale. She beats them, she smokes up in the school parking lot, and that was fun, but I was hoping for darker.  I was hoping this would lean more towards Bad Santa, if we were going to be badding up at all.  This might also be because I have been stuffing my eyeballs with Nighty Night lately, which has perhaps fucked up my expectation of what bad truly is. This is also the first movie I have seen with an extended dryhumping scene.

Two key markers are becoming standby shorthand for a lady movie where the ladies are “real people.” The first is that she has to eat something with a high caloric content without glamour or lust. She has to eat in the way that people do when they are alone.  Think Annie and her cupcake in Bridesmaids. In Bad Teacher, Diaz and her cheeseburger get some strange scene time as she drives to seduce a school district wonk.  Is it narratively important that she eats a cheeseburger on her mild drive? No. Is it funny to watch a fit Diaz eat a cheeseburger? If you think eating cheeseburgers are funny.  It was a strange way to spend 4 seconds, but it was so memorable. The earlier mentioned corn dog had a similar effect. I can’t tell if it’s because we’re unused to seeing women blandly eat without it being a large statement (she’s healthy cuz she eats! Cute because she doesn’t hide her appetite!) or so typical (woman laughing alone with salad). Women are either supposed to have orgasms when they eat cupcakes, or cry in the bathroom about it. Here, they just eat, and, you know, drive.

No orgasms, either. The other marker is the very bad sex scene, usually one that is good for the guy and atrocious for the gal.  Again, anything with Annie and John Hamm in Bridesmaids, and Justin Timberlake’s dedicated dryhumpery here.  The joke usually lands on the stupid, offensive, completely selfish things the men say during sex, while the women are slightly winking at the audience as they contort and romp. They’re with us, telepathing “this guy is a real piece of work,” as they wait for him to finally come. Both scenes are used to announce that the dude is not part of the happy ending for our protagonists.  Neither woman tells off the dude or quits the very bad sex even though he is not listening to her, or worse, tells her to stop talking. The good news is the audience aligns with the woman’s experience in the exchange, even if it assumes that putting up with mid-coitus bullshit is normsville. By making fun of the man’s blindness to his partner, we all actually see and listen to the lady character’s experience.

As a tangent, can you imagine this same dynamic for a great sex scene? In both these movies, the good sex is skipped over, either as a fade out or as an untold part of the story. This might be more because bad sex is easy to define, while good sex is ridiculously specific, especially for women, and thus harder to write.  In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where the bad sex was all very funny and very much from a male POV (the woman who kept saying ‘Hi,’ etc.) but the good sex was downright cliche’ (looking into each other’s eyes, meaning). 

The idea of seeing a good sex scene between Diaz and Jason Segel, her other love interest, is a little bit iffy. How do you keep us aligned in the woman’s experience without making it an over the top ode to a woman’s pleasure? And bad sex keeps the story focused on the protagonist, whereas good sex realigns the audience with the couple. And, the nitty gritty of bad sex is funny. The grit of good sex, is just, well, blushy. We already assume women are blushy.  In these movies where the lady protagonists are trying to claim all three dimensions they have to disregard and work against the already well-mapped soft spots of traditional femininity.  Thus, the dryhumping.

As for Bad Teacher, it’s a mildly good excuse to sit in the dark. One thing it does well is skew dialogue into natural conversation. Characters often say the obvious thing, but in a real and unpackaged way. When Diaz gives helpful dating advice that leads to two men hitting on her sidekick (Phyllis from the Office), Segal says “Wow, that worked superfast.” It could be flat, but it twists enough that when he says it, it lands as a real sentence in the world.  Also, Segel and Diaz seem to have a real chemistry, and while the plot gets stupid, and there are lots of loose ends, it doesn’t become a carnival like Spring Breakdown. I think that means we might be getting somewhere.

Yours,

CF

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A Thousand Ways to be Pissed Off: The Green Hornet

Dear Millicent,

Yesterday I had a kind of attack in the movie theater. It was like all my talk about the protagonist’s diet became real, finding me in a reckoning of blood pressure and sweaty hands. This movie was the straw that broke my hump with its the insistence that nobody but white dudes have full measure in the world.   It was a blindness spiral. I had to become an angry humorless feminist because they so severely reduced everybody except the lucky white male protagonist. This must happen in all kinds of movies, but this was the one for me that did it. I couldn’t see anymore because they couldn’t see, but I had given 11 dollars to be there, and all I got from them was a big fat dose of ire.

We talk a lot here about the rarity of the three dimensional female character in media, but that rarity extends to most groups who aren’t of the privileged white dude variety. The Green Hornet has become the blazing example of how bad of a thud that loss makes.

I get that The Green Hornet is a spoof, and enjoys poking at the rigidity of the super-hero genre.  After the first scene of the movie, I was in, happy to see a script (and a Franco) making fun of the stuff of movie villains, calling out wardrobe, names, and secret hideaways. I thought we were about to watch a smart movie with a lot of action and some 3-D icing on top. It seemed like a nice way to go braindead for the afternoon.

Instead, you get a tour of how great it is to be a privileged white guy. The movie could practically be a manual for how to move around with privilege and power built by race and gender. Seth Rogen, as the Hornet, becomes our very lucky white guy/textbook example of power and privilege. He has inherited his fortune from the empire building of his dad. He parties and likes to ruin things with abandon (there is a distinct joy in smashing plasma TVs in the movie).  He gets a super powerful job because of his family. He has little regard for how his actions affect others. He’s stupid, but it doesn’t matter. He never gets called on any of his trespasses.  The world changes on his time alone–it’s only when he realizes things matter that they actually matter.

Here’s a more of a breakdown of the roles in the movie:

Lucky White Guys:  the hornet, the hornet’s emotionally cold dad, the district attorney. The all wear suits and have huge offices with couches. They have POWER.

The criminals: corner criminals are all black or latino men.  The kingpin is named Chudnofsky and fights with Armenian and Korean kingpins, so all crime is controlled by foreigners.  Sexy assassin types are provided by Asian women who work in a massage and nail parlor. The one white criminal is a sweaty guy who makes crystal meth.

Edward James Olmos belaboredly announces in some rough exposition that he was Rogen’s father’s “most trusted friend for 46 years.” I think he starts as the chauffeur in the early scenes of Rogen’s childhood, but in present day is the savvy news editor who knows what is good for the paper, if only idiot Rogen would listen to him.  We all know he should be the real director of the paper, but Rogen takes that desk after his father’s death, and only gives it over to Olmos at the end as if bestowing a grand gift to a grateful man.  And, we are not supposed to be happy for Olmos, but happy for Rogen in that he has learned something and become a better man.

Kato: His character is from Shanghai, and he provides all of the action in the movie. He knows martial arts, builds machines, appreciates good coffee, and drives his motorcycle really fast.  In one way, it’s great to see an Asian man have a major role in a movie. But he has to be a servant for a man who uses all his ideas and takes credit for his successes. And the amount of jokes relying on the word “little” is ridiculous. He is constantly called “my little sidekick,” or “you are so cute and little,” as Rogen tries to insult/feminize him, or when Rogen is absentmindedly just sounding like an asshole. Plus, there is an amazing Devil Wears Prada moment when Rogen snaps back all of the cozy “we are brothers” friendship shit that he and Kato have been enjoying and reduces Kato back to his proper servant status (he asks him to get a coffee, something, that when he recruited him, he said Kato should never have to do again, ever), all because Kato dared talk to a girl he likes. The movie plays with the idea that the two men are equals, but Rogen’s character only lets that balance exist when it suits him,

Women:  Women in no way exist in this movie. We have: the Asian assassins (who walk around in the movie for about 30 seconds, but with daggers and lace!), the framed picture of the Green Hornet’s dead mother, one female editor who is at a meeting, girls at parties around Rogen, the girl he makes out with in his father’s cars, and Cameron Diaz, who is harassed so intensely throughout the piece that I wanted to slap everybody. Diaz shows up mid movie as a temp. She is all sweetness, even wearing a prim linen dress. Rogen refers to her instantly as “the hottie mctottie” who is quickly hired because of her fineness.  She never blinks at how he talks to her, and graciously takes the job.  During her interview, he asks her age and finds 35 to be ridiculously old.  The only chance her character has is to say that she doesn’t want to talk about it, which is barely respected.  Of course, she turns out to be smart and really good at research, so they rely on her for all facts about what the Hornet should do next.  They both hit on her constantly, fight over her, and she gets fired for the rumor that she slept with one of them.  Then they show up at her door and want refuge, calling her the “mastermind” of their escapades, as if that is some gesture at giving her character some actual value. You could take her out of the movie and nothing about the plot would be altered, and she is treated solely as a prop who wears very short shorts when at home alone. She does utter the words “I will sue you for sexual harrassment,” but it is only after Rogen has verbally harrassed her, fired her for an alleged sexual encounter, tried to walk into her house without invitation, leaned in for a kiss, so it all just seems like the worst.

The movie is also full of lines like “don’t be a pussy,” “you were penisless,” “girls are annoying, thank goodness there aren’t any here,” “this day is going to be balls” (a good thing), “I like my women with balls,” etc.

As a special companion to all of this, there is also an extreme thread of homophobia throughout. When Kato is introduced as “my man,” both men stumble on explaining that it’s not meant romantically.  This joke comes up often usually ending with the awkward assurance that it wasn’t meant “in that way.”

With every group shit on except the lovable goofy lead, I couldn’t take it anymore. I am fatigued. I know the Green Hornet is supposed to be an asshole. That might be why he manages to insult everybody except the other white men in the movie, and while I’d love to give the script this credit, I can’t do it.  It’s not calling out privilege, it’s celebrating it.  Nothing in the movie calls the Hornet on his assness. When he lashes out at Kato for hitting on Diaz, he lies and said he did it to keep their cover in the office. Kato accepts this as a reason, and though he warns him never to talk to him that way again, he lets the beef go. When the Hornet demands that he run the show, even though this ends up risking tons of lives, it’s fine. Nobody gets mad at him. When he fires Diaz for something she never did and he could never legally fire her for, she simply takes her job back with twice the pay, because he asked nicely and promised never to do it again.  The classic transformation of jerk to mature hero here isn’t even about all of his assholery. It all boils down to the dumb daddy issue that he thought his dad was a bad guy, but he really wasn’t.  The Hornet doesn’t have the epiphany that he mistreats others, he has the narcisstic awakening that his inheritance is something to be proud of, not pissed on.

And with all this, I feel broken. This movie is about white guys for white guys, and is a shining example of how clumsy and singular, and powerful, that frame of reference is. It erases all of us. I told Mr. Carla Fran as we left something that I am sure has been said thousands of times by thousands of people: I just want to see a mainstream big-budget movie that admits I exist.

Yours,

CF