I never thought that I needed a dramedy duo in Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) and Allison Janney (The West Wing) until this year’s premiere of Bad Education at the Toronto International Film Festival. Based on true events that took place at the film’s writer’s high school, the story follows Jackman’s character Frank Tassone and Janney’s character Pam Gluckin on the wildest case of larceny I have ever seen, that happened in the Roslyn School District on Long Island, NY.
When the film opens, you are immediately drawn to Tassone and Gluckin’s camaraderie. They run their district so smoothly, no one dares question how, but rather it is portrayed as a breath of fresh air. Tassone cares about his employees and students in a way that is, honestly, so refreshing to see. We rarely see admins care to the point of making personal house calls and going out of their way to make sure the students get into the best and brightest colleges. Tassone and Gluckin both work late, and go above and beyond to make the parents, students and staff feel supported, valued and empowered to be the best versions of themselves, no matter where they go.
Slowly this façade starts to fade as you watch Gluckin allow her family members to use a Roslyn-issued credit card for personal responsibilities such as, to buy supplies for her house remodel and Christmas gifts for her nephew. When family members initially inquire about the card, she always responds with ease that she’ll handle it and not to worry. In turn, she spends many nights altering documents and records to her advantage. Her son, not as smart as his mother, slips up and creates a domino effect when he fails to cover his tracks appropriately during a Home Depot shopping trip, and thus the bigger story unfolds.
When Gluckin goes down, her partnership with Tassone goes with it and no one holds back. Tassone works with the school system to get her a deal that seems fitting to him but mostly leaving her to take all the blame and carrying on as usual. And for a moment, you start to think she might be working alone until you see there’s more than meets the eye with Tassone. It is this pivotal turn of events where Janney and Jackman play off of each other incredibly well, showing the destruction of a partnership that the audience has grown to love and respect, giving us some of the best scenes of the film.
In the epic uncovering, it isn’t just Gluckin’s son massive screw-up that bolsters this crime to the forefront, but also the impressive investigative journalism of a Roslyn High Student, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan, Miracle Workers). A school newspaper assignment led to her uncovering millions of dollars of fraudulent purchases that brought down Roslyn staff, including Tassone. The film isn’t just good because of the insane plot that keeps you on your toes every moment of the film, but the film is good because Jackman presents Tassone a fully formed human being with narcissistic traits that give way to a broader and more complex character, whose personal and professional lines are so blurred, that he ends up poetically succumbing to the intricate web he’s woven.
The way he shifts his entire being to throw Gluckin and anyone else in his path, including a teenager, under the bus to save himself, makes you question the true mental state of Tassone. He moves so stealthily that other employees don’t even realize their engagement in the fraud and extortion due to neglect in their work and sometimes unintentional oversight.
Bad Education, a story that I had not known prior to seeing the film, but researched thoroughly after, is so insane that I walked out of the theater questioning how all organized bodies spend the allotted dollars they are given. It shows just how easy it is to do the wrong things, how people will go to great lengths to cover their illegal activities, and how some people can delusionally believe that when it comes to financial corruption, the lines of right and wrong are not always black and white but sometimes a shade of grey.
The film shows how you never really know anyone fully, just the parts that they allow you to see. And as these individuals are ultimately convicted and do their stint in prison, you question whether a black or brown person who committed the same crime would’ve been granted the second chances and/or type of leniency that our characters and these real-life thieves were. So, if you haven’t read all about how a student helped bring moral deceit to light do so, and then follow that up by checking out the film and its stellar performances, when it debuts on HBO.
4.5 out of 5
Header Image: HBO Films