BAD EDUCATION (HBO) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: Inspired by true events, Bad Education stars Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman and Academy Award winner Allison Janney. The story follows Frank Tassone (Jackman) and Pam Gluckin (Janney) who reign over a popular Long Island school district on the verge of the nation’s top spot, spurring record college admissions and soaring property values. But when an embezzlement scheme surfaces that threatens to destroy all they’ve built, Frank is forced to maintain order and secrecy — by whatever means necessary.
Bad Education is a movie about a seemingly morally righteous, hardworking and charismatic superintendent who stole almost $11 million out of the school’s annual budget over several years. This is not a fairy tale coughed out by director Cory Finley and writer Mike Makowsky but a true story based on a scandal that happened in an affluent suburb in Long Island two decades ago.
This dramatized retelling stars Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone, a charming eloquent superintendent who turned a public school into one of the best in terms of national ranking. Frank in short was a problem solver, an overachiever, a faithful partner who still kept a photo of his late wife on his desk. We could say a dozen good things about Frank Tassone but despite his success, ultimately he is not the man he portrayed. Ends up Frank has been embezzling money via his same-sex partner in Manhattan, has another younger lover in Vegas, chalking up bills from cosmetic surgeries to dry cleaning and expensive suits at the school’s expense.
His accomplice on the other hand is none other than his assistant superintendent, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) who spent the school’s money on lavish holidays, vacation home, jewellery and artwork. All seems well hidden or forgotten until one day, a school reporter, Rachel decides to poke her nose into the school’s financial records and slowly uncover the duo’s embezzlement.
Without resorting to mindless sensationalized dramatics, Bad Education is intriguing and genuinely well-written and staged. Liked a piece of layered onion, Finley slowly peels off the layer to reveal the ugliness of every character. Both Tassone and Gluckin feels that the amount of money they took were more or less a compensation to their hard work and dedication to the school. Ray Romano who plays Bob, the local real estate agent and among those who served on the board was obviously blinded by greed as the reputation of the school indirectly increased the value of the local properties while the grades-obsessed parents are too busy to notice the wrongdoings of the superintendents.
Hugh Jackman delivers a nuanced and subtle performance as a man with a compelling, complicated persona. Bad Education marks his second fascinating screen performance after another scandalous drama, The Front Runner. If you loved Allison Janney in I, Tonya, then you shouldn’t miss her as Gluckin, the ultra-cool, no-nonsense school staff who no one dare to confront.
Although Bad Education did a good job chronicling the evil and greed of human beings, it is however less forthcoming in detailing how all the scams and bongus accounting actually took place. There are some details which we loved to be included in though on the whole, it doesn’t really affect the characters or storytelling. Bad Education is a not-to-be-missed, small-scaled drama that boast rich performances and narrative. It’s a true story that doesn’t sound convincing on paper but it’s one hell of a movie that reminds one that money it seems is the root of all evil.
Review by Linus Tee