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cheek by jowl

Who’s the Worse Teacher? Larry Crowne’s Julia Roberts vs. Bad Teacher’s Cameron Diaz

In Bad Teacher, which opened last weekend, Cameron Diaz plays a bad teacher with a huge, underused smile who is bitter, surly, inappropriate, and doesn’t want to be in a classroom. In Larry Crowne, the Tom Hanks–directed light comedy opening this weekend, Julia Roberts co-stars as a good teacher with a huge, underused smile who is bitter, surly, inappropriate, and doesn’t want to be in a classroom. Hmmm ... one movie says bad teacher, another movie says good teacher? To be fair, Julia Roberts's character, Mercy, is not as aggressively horrible as Diaz's Elizabeth, but the My Best Friend's Wedding co-stars share more similarities in these two films than you would expect. Herewith, a list of them.

  The bad teacher in Bad Teacher The ostensibly good teacher in Larry Crowne
Is the teacher unhappy to be teaching? You bet! She hoped to marry a rich person and never have to teach again. Yup! She hates having a class that starts at eight in the morning.
Does the teacher foster conversation in the classroom ? Nope, she makes her students watch movies every single day. Nah, she assigns her students topics, makes them give speeches on said topics, and offers no feedback.
Does the teacher behave inappropriately with her students? Yes, in too many ways to count. In one particularly notable incident, she gives a student her bra. Yes. She makes out with one of her students.
Does the teacher have a problematic relationship with a mind-altering substance? Indeed. Pills, weed, booze. Just frozen margaritas.
Is the teacher attracted to a puffy man much less attractive than herself with a low-status job? Yes, the gym teacher played by Jason Segel. Also yes: the unemployed fifty-something college student played by Tom Hanks.
Does the teacher have an extremely awkward on-camera sexual encounter? An extended, unsexy dry-humping session with Justin Timberlake. An extended, unsexy, sloppy, drunken kiss with Tom Hanks.
What are the teacher's feelings about fake breasts? She desperately wants some! Who knows, but her husband desperately wants her to get some!
Does the teacher ultimately help her students? Well, that kid she gave her bra to did momentarily stop being a loser. Her students seem to think so, but we're not sure why.
Does the teacher try her hardest not to smile her big, famous smile? You know it. Bitter, awful people don't smile. Ditto. That poster is just a tease.
Photo: Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures