Bad Education is a well-crafted look at how privilege and vanity corrupted two life, long educators, into embezzling 11.2 million dollars over 10 years. Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney are fantastic in this film based on real-life events that occurred during the 2004 school year. There are some liberties taken in the movie, but director Corey Finley does tackle some compelling issues stemming from the scandal. At issue throughout is whether the ends justify the means. Does getting outstanding results in your job justify any transgressions? What’s important to note is the Roslyn school system encompasses some pretty affluent neighborhoods in upstate New York. Success is everything, and the appearance of success can open many doors.
The film centers around Superindent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and Assistant Superintendent Pam Gluckin’s (Allison Janney) embezzlement over ten years, resulting in both serving jail time. What stood out to me was the dichotomy between these two figures. Tassone is polished, poised, very careful about how he is perceived both professionally and personally. Gluckin is equally poised but is brasher and a bit of a wisecracker.
One thing which stood out was how the school administration initially came down hard on Cluckin when the initial discrepancies were discovered. Rather than confronting the issue head-on, it appears Roslyn’s school board was looking for a scapegoat. Could it be that the Assistant Superintendent didn’t fit the profile on an administrator in a highly affluent neighborhood? Perhaps, but it isn’t like she didn’t try! Cluckin bought multiple homes, cars, and paid her daughter’s tuition with the money stolen from the district. It just seems that no matter how many purchases she made, Tassone was not only accepted but beloved by the community.
Director Corey Finley gained acclaimed for his work on Thoroughbreds due in large part to his attention to detail. The same can be said about Bad Education. Many of the best moments in the film were in how certain scenes were staged. When the Tassone and the Rosyln School Board confront Gluckin, the scene was shot in a side office with the group altogether (Frank being in the center) in close across from the Assistant Superident. This sequence created a feel of the whole world coming down on Janney’s character. Placing Jackman’s character right in the middle showed how even with things were at their worst, he attempted to maintain control.
Jackman and Janney elevated the source material in their effective use of body language. Janney sold her character not only with her delivery but the posture she had when interacting with fellow employees. Even when Gluckin’s been caught, she believes “Frank will fix it.” Jackman, in roughly 80-85% of scenes, makes one move (whether it’s looking in the mirror or fixing his hair) to highlight Tasscone’s vanity.
His preoccupation with appearances on a personal and professional level is what leads to Gluckin being thrown under the bus. For him, it’s not just what was right or wrong. Jackman’s character was too invested in public perception. What will people say if the truth comes about Roslyn’s fairy tale turnaround? So Tassone attempts to take control of the “perceived” truth. In reality, everything about him was a lie.
While Gluckin initially took the heat for the embezzlement, Tassone was equally guilty. The Superintendent took taxpayer dollars to finance his Park Avenue apartment, which he shared with his domestic partner. Jackman’s character also used funds to finance trips to conferences with his boyfriend Kyle (Rafael Casal). While he loved his work, keeping up appearances had to be exhausting. The lie got out of hand rather rapidly. The more Frank tried to maintain the status quo, the worse it got. Tassone’s look of relief, once he was ultimately arrested, spoke volumes.
My only critique of Bad Education was how the fallout from their actions was barely addressed. I’m also on the fence about whether they should have used a fictional character to portray the reporter who broke the story. Other than those two things, the film was an enjoyable statement on greed, and vanity can bring out the worse in anyone.
Bad Education debuts Saturday April 25th at 8 pm. on HBO.