It always amuses me when a long-ago Hollywood programmer ends up topping one of Netflix’s
Director Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher is a classic star+concept pitch, with Cameron Diaz (a few years before she retired from acting at the age of 42) playing a deeply apathetic teacher who just wants money for a breast enlargement surgery. The film, like a lot of comedies of the early 2010’s, is less a coherent narrative feature than a series of stand-alone sketches that barely mesh. So much of the film involves Diaz’s protagonist putting up a façade that only her scenes with Jason Segal (as a gym teacher/”right guy” love interest) offer genuine human interaction. Nonetheless, it’s surface-level entertaining without being aggressively funny, and it mostly exists to give a bunch of polished comedic actors (Lucy Punch, Phyllis Smith, John Michael Higgins, etc.) a studio paycheck for supporting roles and glorified cameos.
The film still works as an example of Diaz indulging in a conventionally unsympathetic character, and it’s to the film’s credit that, like the underrated 2002 flick The Sweetest Thing, it demands no plaudits for relishing its R-rated vulgarity and its female-centric anti-hero narrative. That it’s merely okay was itself something of a moderate triumph considering the expectations placed then (and arguably now) on female-led studio flicks. While the movie never hides Diaz’s obvious attractiveness, it only somewhat relies on salaciousness for punchlines, while also keeping the whole “Diaz helps the kids become better/healthier people” shtick to a minimum. Warts and all, it’s “just a studio programmer/star vehicle/high concept” in an era when that was enough for commercial success. The $20 million flick opened with $31 million and legged out to $100 million domestic and $216 million worldwide.
It was one of Diaz’s last commercial hits, coming just after The Green Hornet ($226 million on a $110 million budget) and just before The Other Woman ($195 million on a $40 million budget). It shouldn’t go unnoticed that The Green Hornet, which was almost successful nine years ago as a Seth Rogen/Jay Chou/Cameron Diaz comic vehicle, is already getting the reboot treatment while Diaz’s actual successes from that period, Bad Teacher, The Other Woman and even Sex Tape ($126 million on a $40 million budget) would almost certainly struggle to get made today, at least at the same budgetary levels. Again, that’s as much about shifting viewership (where the audience for “just a movie” shifted to streaming over theaters) and audience tastes as out-of-date conventional wisdom, so maybe Diaz retired at exactly the right moment.
Jake Kasdan would executive-produce Elizabeth Meriwether’s terrific Zooey Deschanel sitcom The New Girl. He again directed Diaz and Segal in Sony’s Sex Tape in the summer of 2014. His two Jumanji sequels made Sony so much money ($962 million and $800 million in 2017 and 2019 on $90 million and $120 million budgets) that they retroactively made Zero Effect and Walk Hard into “hits.” Diaz claimed she retired after Sony’s musical Anne remake because she was tired of traveling for the job, and she certain could afford to never step on another set ever again. But if she can find something close to home, well, she’d likely be welcomed back with open arms, especially as she was already proving via (among others) the dynamite In Her Shoes that she could handle drama (hard) as well as comedy (harder).
The temporary success of Bad Teacher, an old-school Hollywood star-driven vehicle, sans IP and with an R-rating to boot, is yet another example of how the streaming platforms arguably rely more on old favorites than flashy originals. Disney+ has been dominated, almost since day one, by reruns of The Simpsons and The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and HBO Max shelled out $500,000 for Friends reruns. And while Enola Holmes and Project Power get the headlines and presumably justify the expense, Netflix’s daily ten is almost always as likely to be dominated by older movies like Bad Teacher, Real Steel and The Smurfs 2, all three of which came out in 2011, a time when audiences actually went to the movies just to see a movie. Netflix depends on the very content pipeline they put out of business.