Plotting: “Bad Teacher”

Not long ago I watched the movie Bad Teacher. What interested me most, beyond that particular striking wide-eyed attractiveness that is the Cameron Diaz from Something About Mary and Charlie’s Angels, was the plotting.

The two central story lines are:

  • Explicit goal or holy grail: in this case it’s money for a breast augmentation operation, which in turn she believes will enable her to marry rich, and,
  • Growth of the protagonist.

Both of these stories are common fare; at this point we could be talking about Jane Austen’s Emma as much as Bad Teacher. But take a look at all the other story lines and threads that are taking place:

  • Love triangle; her misplaced interest in one teacher, his interest in another female teacher.
  • Jealousy; the other female character becomes Diaz’s rival and prime antagonist.
  • Possible true love; a second male teacher who sees her more closely for who she really is and who she is becoming.
  • The reformation of the protagonist as a teacher. This is presented as an incidental change that happens as the protagonist chases the explicit goal of money (contest for highest student marks), but of course it plays a crucial part in the growth of the protagonist.
  • Drugs, which are part of the “bad teacher” personality but which has it’s own thread in the story.
  • Food and drink, which appear a number of times and are part of the “bad teacher” personality, from rejected gifts from students to a poisoned a apple (the “bad” protagonist as the evil witch and the “good” antagonist as Snow White) and poisoned wine.
  • The dumpy single teacher friend story, which allows the shallow romantic skills and attitudes of the protagonist to be exposed, and for the protagonist’s growth in this area by the end of the movie to be reflected.

If, as a writer, one takes the basic story elements and then considers all these smaller story lines one can see how the secondary threads expose the primary characters, allow them to interact, and how these stories reappear for strength and continuity and development, and how the threads relate to each other and weave the fabric of the story into a coherent whole. This is not a random hodge-podge of scenes designed to take the pulchritudinous Cameron Diaz and retell an essence of the Emma story.

I’ve skimmed some reviews on various movie review sites and I find it interesting to note some of the positive reviews for Diaz, bad reviews for the story, reviews that see other things like sad representations of the public school system. I guess that, as a writer, I see plot structure.


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