Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) is a middle-school teacher who has been biding her time until she catches a wealthy man who can whisk her away from actual work and let her live the life of luxury she so desires. When her fiance dumps her on the day she quits teaching, she returns the following school year and attempts to start over. Her best prospect is new substitute Scott (Justin Timberlake), who has a lot of family money. As she works to try to raise enough money for a boob job (Scott likes busty women), she battles with fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (the fantastic Lucy Punch) and fends off the advances of funny gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel).
Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg and directed by Jake Kasdan, this is the type of broad comedy that is generally funny, kind of problematic, but undeniably crowd-pleasing. The basic premise of the movie is secondary to the cast of characters: the fact that Elizabeth is so ill-suited for the profession of teaching (almost to the point of it being criminal) is never explored. With a cast as talented as this one, those sorts of plot holes almost don’t matter.
What elevates this comedy from other broad comedies that have come before is the very smart casting. Diaz is in her element as a total bully, unafraid to be crude, able to tell everyone exactly what she thinks about them. She fills the role with humor and it’s clear she’s having a great time. Matching her point for point is Lucy Punch, a British actress with an American accent so spot-on that I didn’t even hear a hint of it (and I always notice these things, Gentle Readers). Punch’s face is rubber-like in its ability to contort as she grows increasingly frustrated by the antics of Diaz’s character. Also notable is The Office’s Phyllis Smith, whose meek character steals nearly every scene she’s in. Timberlake does well playing against type, especially when he gets up on stage and sings an off-key, terribly written song called “Simpatico.” Segel is, as always, charming and irreverent.
The bottom line is this: although there are aspects to the film that are problematic (Elizabeth’s obsession with getting her breasts done springs to mind), the film is the sort of comedy that’s nearly perfect for whiling away a summer afternoon: mostly funny, mostly frothy, and easy to forget after you leave the theater. At least it stars two really funny women, though.