“A town is only as good as its school system.” This line, spoken by Hugh Jackman’s character Frank Tassone, very well sets the tone for the entire film which revolves around the cutthroat and ultra-competitive nature of Long Island school districts. Based on the true story of the largest school embezzlement case in US history (with over $11 million dollars misappropriated), “Bad Education” does not hold back at all in telling this story of corruption, and the downfall of a man who was once so beloved by the parents and students he represented as superintendent. In a time marked with so few movies coming out, “Bad Education” acts as a bright star in a dark sky, and is arguably the best film I’ve seen released so far this year.
“Bad Education” takes place in 2002 and follows the story of Frank Tassone, the superintendent of Roslyn School District on Long Island. Ranked #4 in the country, Tassone’s district is edging closer to achieving the #1 ranking that he so desires. And with a new architectural installation called the “skywalk” planned to be built in the high school, it appears that the district might just secure that coveted ranking the following year. However, after one of the school’s administrators is found to have been using school funding for personal reasons, Tassone begins a coverup to keep the beautiful facade of the district intact, so as to not jeopardize the standing of the school. While Tassone tries to keep the secret from getting out by pressuring his peers into keeping quiet, a student reporter named Rachel does some digging into the school’s funding. Soon Rachel realizes that Tassone and the school district he exemplifies might not be as perfect as they outwardly appear to be.
In a year with so few new releases stemming from theaters shutting down due to the coronavirus, “Bad Education” not only delivers a refreshing and compelling story, but one that is also so relevant today. This movie comments on some of the problems that exist in our broken school system, showing just how far administrators will go to keep good appearances. And while the bad guys in the film work for the school district, the parents that pressure them from the outside are not painted in such a positive light either. We still empathize with these school workers, as parents address them heartlessly as if they are not even people but almost as if they’re just objects and instruments in a system. While that does not redeem the actions of the administrators, “Bad Education” does not take the easy route by simply placing blame on the school, but it instead opts for a layered approach and lets no one off easy in the process.
“Bad Education” has a fantastic screenplay and features exceptional nuanced direction from Cory Finley, but its best feature is definitely the performances of its actors. Geraldine Viswanathan plays high school student Rachel Bhargava, who writes the article exposing the misappropriation of school funding. Viswanathan continues her streak of solid performances over the last few years which have showcased her range, and she more than delivers again in this film. Oscar-winning actress Allison Janney plays Pam Gluckin, the first school administrator to be caught embezzling money. Janney truly steals every scene she’s in with her cutting performance and I would not be surprised if she receives award nominations for her relatively small but unforgettable role in this film. The movie’s greatest performance, however, comes from Hugh Jackman in the lead role as the superintendent, Frank Tassone.
In a career that spans decades, Jackman has consistently shown audiences why he remains an A-List star. Although he’ll most likely be remembered for playing Wolverine in the X-Men franchise, I believe his performance in “Bad Education” will go down as perhaps the greatest in his career. Tassone is a man who has painted himself as the perfect superintendent. He remembers all the little details about each and every teacher, student, and parent, and genuinely seems to care about all of their well-being. However, what he cares about most is appearances, which turns out to be his tragic flaw. In many ways, this movie plays out like a Greek tragedy, as the seemingly superior hero’s downfall is wrought by his own hubris and destructive actions. Tassone’s need to appear perfect ends up devastating all he has worked so hard to build. Through clever editing tactics, “Bad Education” brilliantly builds this relationship between Tassone’s own obsession with his physical appearance and his fixation on maintaining positive perception surrounding the school. While on the surface Tassone’s nice suits and carefully groomed hair conjure up an aura of success which mirrors the beautiful outside of the school, we learn as the film progresses that beneath his carefully polished shell he is rather corrupt and immoral, just as the “beautiful” school is deceptively riddled with leaks and mildew within its vast halls.
“Bad Education” has a 1 hour and 48 minute runtime. While it traditionally may be viewed by some as a “slow-burner,” it really exceeds this categorization. The film escalates gradually in fairly exciting ways, making the climax’s ultimate payoff all the more worthwhile. “Bad Education” offers a contemporary character study and a narrative with depth, which works to raise larger questions about our current society and school systems. Be sure to check it out, as it is now available to stream on HBO GO/NOW, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
With graduation only about a week away, I’d like to end my final review on a personal note. I want to thank The Crescent, its members, and also everyone who has read any of my reviews over the past couple of years. It’s been a pleasure writing articles on what I’m passionate about and I really hope that some of these reviews inspired you to watch some of the many films I’ve discussed. Movies are truly a special thing. They act as a great unifier in a world where so much conflict exists. Film transcends cultural lines and crosses borders, it creates a bond between us which helps us view ourselves as a singular type of person, the moviegoer. The magic of cinema is real and it actually does have the power to make change, from government policy to something even as simple as making one person’s day a bit better. On a final note, I’d like to offer some closing remarks: keep re-watching the films you love, keep viewing new films you’ve never seen, always look to discover more, support your local movie theaters once they open back up, and always remain confident in your taste in movies regardless of what others think of them. Through these simple actions cinema can be kept alive for generations, as a film is nothing without its viewer.
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