“You might forget, but we don’t. We never forget. Ever.”
There are always those school teachers that give us a helping hand, and we are forever reminded of their goodness. Then there’s those teachers we don’t remember at all. And finally, there are those teachers, who we remember, but not for anything good. Bad Education recalls the 2002 scandal that shook the community of Long Island, New York as educators for the Roslyn School District embezzled $11 Million in school funds. As the news breaks, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), the district’s superintendent, must now devise a cover-up in order to avoid the negative publicity, so the district can proceed with the grandiose projects for Roslyn High School.
Why be number 4, when you can easily be number 1? That was Tassone’s mindset as superintendent. A true administrator that excelled in encouraging kids to be the best. This would lead the students to receive high marks, and graduate with offers from top universities. He turned the district around by putting Roslyn High School as the number 4 school in the nation. In return, the school system receives prestige and funds, while the community’s real estate value goes up. The teachers love Tassone. The school staff loves Tassone, and more importantly, the students, love Tassone. When sophomore, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) comes to his office for information regarding the new Skybridge project, Tassone tells her, in response to Rachel’s puff piece mentality, “it’s only a puff piece, if you make it a puff piece.” Rachel descends on the higher ups, including Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) Tassone’s next in command – turning this “puff piece” into a form of investigative journalism. Rachel soon finds out that the Skybridge’s $7.2 million plans were void of any bids from competing companies. This lights a fire under Rachel — forcing her to go deeper down the rabbit hole. All while Pam apprehensively gives her the keys to all the documents. What Rachel didn’t know was that the missing contract bids were just the tip of the iceberg.
Screenwriter Mike Makowsky, actually attended Roslyn Middle School during the scandal. Makowsky brilliantly builds these characters up, but not in such a way to ultimately tear them down. Makowsky has a soft spot for Tassone and Gluckin – investigating the “chain of command” as these two were grossly underpaid for the jobs they were doing compared to the riches that school board president, Bob Spicer (Ray Romano), receives from the district. Not necessarily condoning the actions of these two, Makowsky and director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) examine the psyche of the characters involved.
It’s a little disappointing that Bad Education went straight to HBO. Don’t get me wrong. I loved being able to stream it here at my home, but it’s an absolute shame that the film didn’t have a theatrical release. It could be, that in regard to the pandemic, the Academy may revise the rules for films released in 2020. However, until that happens, Jackman and Janney’s chances of being recognized for their work here, is a long shot. Jackman is at his absolute best. Coming in second only to his character, Robert Angier, in Christopher Nolan’s, The Prestige. As Tassone is vilified for the criminal acts that took place under his watch, Jackman plays this anti-hero of sorts, by portraying both sides of this character — the Tassone that people took so well to, and the not so flattering version that inevitably came to be. But Jackman is only half of a hole as Janney, in her always fantastic way, portrays Pam. Pam is the first domino to fall, which gives Janney the ability to portray Pam in her most vulnerable position. Janney’s portrayal of Pam, dare I say, may be better than her character in I,Tonya. She would have been a “shoe-in” for a Best Supporting Actress nomination. No doubt!
Bad Education is what movies of this caliber should strive to be. It’s dark, dramatic, has heart, has laughs, and it’s based on a true story. The characters are handled with such care, that you can still see, no matter what situation they’re in, the vulnerability in a world where the hardest workers usually get the shorter end of the stick. It’s a complicated story with a rollercoaster of emotions on full display. But if I may be frank, Bad Education, is 2020’s best film so far.
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Mike Makowsky
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Annaleigh Ashford, and Alex Wolff