Gemma LaMana/Columbia Pictures
Schoolteacher Diaz receives an education of her own.
The Dinner : chicken phad thai at Tup Tim Thai (118 W. Mercer St.).


Cameron Diaz Cheapens Herself. We Approve

Gemma LaMana/Columbia Pictures
Schoolteacher Diaz receives an education of her own.
The Dinner: chicken phad thai at Tup Tim Thai (118 W. Mercer St.).

The Movie: Bad Teacher at the Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave).

The Screenplate: A lot of lazy critics, myself included, first pegged Bad Teacher as some sort of Bridesmaids wannabe. You know--the sexy starlet, her career in decline, pushing 40, trying to remake herself as a raunchy, Judd Apatow-style broad who lies, curses, chases men for their money, smokes pot in the parking lot outside work, drinks from mini-booze bottles at work (a middle school), and generally debauches herself--only without the nuance and intelligence that Kristen Wiig brought to Bridesmaids. And, admittedly, Diaz is no Wiig, though they're generational sorority sisters, a year apart in age. But despite Diaz's earlier success, with Wiig a newcomer to the A-list, Diaz acquits herself nicely as a high-living hussy suddenly and humiliatingly forced to live on a budget. She goes downmarket, and with gusto. Which gets us to TTT . . .

Elizabeth (Diaz), flaunting her engagement ring in the first few scenes of Bad Teacher, triumphantly quits her teaching gig, then gets dumped by her fiancé. It's crushing but just: She was only after his money. Soon she's back to a flea-ridden apartment, driving a shitty econobox, and, worse, back to teaching, which she hates. There's nothing remotely likable or redeeming about Elizabeth; and this she understands. Her only asset is beauty, not teaching ability. So she decides on a set of fake tits to make herself more competitive among her fellow aging beauty queens who want nothing more than to be trophy wives.

Thus begins Elizabeth's boob-job fund-raising campaign: soliciting bribes from parents in exchange for easy grades for their kids; working at the school car-wash in a pure T&A display that results in tips she pockets in her very short shorts. Again, she's in it purely for the money. No more fancy cars, no more fancy clothes, no more fancy meals until she lands a rich husband.

That's why Elizabeth also might find herself dining at Tup Tim Thai, where the chicken phad thai (with water and white rice) sets you back about $10. There, too, you're left alone to dine in solitary shame (though with many water refills). It's a cheap date for one, where the order comes swiftly, the service is polite, the food is tasty and cheap. It's a rebound kind of a place, where you can brood on your sorrows and scheme your return to the high life--maybe even with a new man.

In this regard, there's a real kinship between Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids, whose heroine (Wiig) has been financially ruined by the failure of her bakery. Annie, like Elizabeth, has had her dreams crushed. Men aren't particularly reliable in either picture; and women seem to be feeling the recession more acutely. Bridesmaids' Annie dallies with a wealthy, self-satisfied lout (Jon Hamm) who treats her terribly. (He's just the kind of guy Elizabeth would go for.) And when Elizabeth in Bad Teacher finds a new rich target (bow-tied fellow teacher Justin Timberlake), he turns out to be a jerk of a different order (a "Poindexter," in Manohla Dargis' perfect phrasing in The New York Times).

Arrogant Elizabeth thinks she deserves caviar, while low-esteem Annie sentences herself to bread crumbs. But both end up getting drunk, disgraced, and belligerent en route to finding more suitable mates . . . and some small amount of wisdom. Both Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids are ultimately formulaic (as is chicken phad thai, for that matter), though the latter, co-written by Wiig and produced by Judd Apatow, is formula of a much higher order. (The two guys responsible for the dreadful Year One, graduates of The Office, wrote Bad Teacher.) The two films are very similar, as both heroines initially resist, then warm to, blue-collar schlubs pointedly lacking money (gym teacher Jason Segel in Bad Teacher, policeman Chris O'Dowd in Bridesmaids).

Is this comeuppance or kismet? Writing for us, Karina Longworth sees Diaz's ordeal as a slutty betrayal of feminist ideals; Elizabeth is punished, by a male-dominated system, for wanting a rich man to take care of her. In the Times, Dargis argues that Diaz is liberated by playing such a crass, comic character. Gender politics don't matter so much, perhaps, in two comedies with exactly the same outcome. I think both critics would agree, as would I, that Bad Teacher is an inferior product that would've been enormously helped by more sisterhood (and rivalry) among Diaz and her co-stars Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith. Wiig has the benefit of a half-dozen top-notch comedic actresses around her. Diaz has the disadvantage of being a solitary Star, no matter how game her down-and-dirty performance may be. (It would've been great to see her in Bridesmaids; but of course she's already been there and done that in My Best Friend's Wedding.)

Already a Bridesmaids sequel is said to be in the works. Cameron Diaz, call your agent. And if you want to meet with Wiig, I can recommend a nice, cheap Thai place in Lower Queen Anne.

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