Earlier this year Award winning actress Felecity Huffman paid thousands of dollars because she wanted her daughter to have a ‘fair shot’ at college. For someone like me, a ‘fair shot’ included my mother working two jobs, me securing financial aid and working three jobs while taking more than 20 credit hours so that I could graduate. Not only did I graduate, but I made the Dean’s List and was Homecoming Queen for The School of Communications.
Hard work and little elbow grease never hurt anybody, but privileged members of society always feel like they can break the rules with no consequences or repercussions. Well, for Rosyln High School in the New York borough of Long Island Pam Gluckin and Frank Tassone learned that lesson in spades.
Inspired by a true story, Bad Education is a smartly assembled, hilariously dark, at times squirm-in-your-seat chronicle of the most fascinating financial crime in the history of the US school system. Directed by Cory Finley from a script by Mike Makowsky, (who was in the seventh grade in the Roslyn School District awhen the scandal hit), the film is a master class in being a con-artists, with the charismaticly handsome Frank taking measures by any means necessary to conceal his authentic self from his colleagues and the law, but attempt this carefully constructed charade from crumbling to bits.
Long Island school superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant superintendent for business, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), brought the Roslyn School District unprecedented prestige with numbers of college admissions other schools sorely rivaled. Frank, always immaculately groomed and tailored, is a master of positive messaging, who can apparently do no wrong.
All of that goes to hell in a handbasket when Tassone encourages a timid student reporter, Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan) to dig deep into a skywalk project. Turns out that one project had some questionable expense reports and a major embezzlement scheme of epic proportions is uncovered by Rachel. Quietly panicking, Frank devises an elaborate cover-up without any regard for whose life is ruined or thrown under the bus.
Hugh Jackman is not singing, dancing, smiling or being a superhero wolf and finally getting the chance to flex his acting muscles as a serious actor (he was equally impressive in The Front Runner, which was largely ignored earlier this year about former Presidential Nominee Gary Hart). He is so deliciously despicable and menacing as Frank Tassone that it will literally make your skin crawl. Academy Award-winner Allison Janney hitting another home run as Pam Gluckin. She is so arrogantly annoying that you have no empathy or sympathy for her plight of white privilege. Ray Romano is fantabulous as the School Board President who becomes frazzled to his wits end.
Cory Finley beautifully crafts a tale that weaves and bobs in such a way that you almost forget this was a true story. That opening shot of Tassone plucking nose hair, slicking that perfect hairdo and sucking back his charcoal smoothie perfectly sets up this man who is a total fraud in every way, but yet this is the one aspect of his life that he can control and has normalcy with. Equally impressive is using the holiday classic Blue Christmas to illustrate the pain for Pam and Frank during this ordeal. Frank gets a facelift and Pam is sitting void of any emotion while her family celebrates on Christmas Day. Pure genius.
The most shocking revelation comes during the end credits when the audience learns the school system was scammed out of more that 11.2 million dollars and that due to a New York State Pension mistake, Frank Tassone still receives more than 173,000 a year. Only in America.
Bad Education is an epic lesson in what happens when the community stops paying attention and gets swayed by smoke and mirrors. Your children and communities deserve better. Stay woke.