The main character, a gold-digging junior high teacher, is played by Cameron Diaz, who projects the odor of crass desperation so convincingly that she’s neither cute nor endearing. She seems genuinely uninterested in the students, or in developing good relationships with her coworkers, or in becoming part of the school’s extracurricular activities. She doesn’t even gold-dig well. The movie’s opening scene shows an “intervention” by her fiancé and his mother, convinced that she doesn’t even care about him enough to even know when his birthday is, she just wants the money. He tells her the engagement is off. So she’s forced to return to the school the next year and explain to everybody what happened. The explanation changes every time she’s asked, but it always involves her fiancé doing something horrible, like pedophilia.
Her idea of teaching is to set up movies for her middle school kids to watch while she surreptitiously drinks at her desk. Another teacher tries to expose her phoniness, but she fixes her – by planting drugs in her desk and calling in the drug-sniffing dogs. She comes on to a new substitute teacher (a bewildering milquetoast performance from Justin Timberlake) because she thinks he might have money, and entices him away from another teacher he was genuinely interested in, only to participate in a very strange, fully clothed, “dry” lovemaking session on a school outing. (It’s supposed to be burlesque and ironic, but comes off as gross and grotesque.)
Meanwhile, there’s a nice gym teacher (Jason Segal?) who somehow sees something appealing in her, but she flatly refuses his overtures because he’s, well, a middle school gym teacher. At one point, she even asks what went wrong with his life that he wound up there, a slap in the face to all dedicated teachers everywhere. What little dialogue there is with other teachers reveals a nasty condescension, and the kind of patronization that leaves just as bad a taste as, well, the gratuitous language that is simply in bad taste. Yes, there can be genuine naughty humor based on the shockingly and incongruously crude, but this just feels like unfunny slumming.
She uses inappropriate profanity and slang with her students. She speaks to them inappropriately about their lack of attractiveness, and even allows one of them to see her smoke marijuana in her car in the school parking lot. Her idea of helping a boy who’s struggling with the rejection of a pretty girl is to hand him her bra so he can show it to the other boys and win their admiration. When she finds out there’s a bonus involved for having the students with the highest test scores, she pretends to be seducing the district official with the official test, but actually just drugs him and uses the purloined test to give her own students an unfair advantage. She volunteers for the class car wash so she can show up in a provocative outfit and prance around with a wet T-shirt. And she steals a figurine from a student’s home where she’s invited at Thanksgiving so she can give it to her principal to butter him up.
She’s just so despicable, mean-spirited, self-centered and foul-mouthed that we find it impossible to like her, much less root for her. So at the end she becomes a guidance counselor?
Sheesh. All associated with this mess should distance themselves quickly, and the rest of us hope that it just falls flat quietly.
Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Texas.