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Bad Education (2019)

If you like the scripts that play with audience expectations as I do, you’ll want to see Bad Education.

The film is based on the true story of the embezzlement at schools in Roslyn, New York, in the early 2000s. The superintendent Frank Tassone (played by Hugh Jackman), steals $2 million from his district while seemingly cares deeply for the school’s well-being, the teachers, and the students.

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney stand out with great performances in this drama/dark comedy. The scriptwriter Mike Makowsky had met Tassone and was indeed a student at Roslyn during the scandal. The film is the second feature of director Cory Finley.

When a school newspaper reporter, Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan), approaches him for an interview that she defines as a “puff piece,” Frank Tassone encourages her that any piece can be significant if she takes it seriously. While telling her to think bigger, he ends up shooting himself on the foot. The end credits reveal that the scandal was first published in the school magazine before heading in the New York Times.

The main character might as well be called an anti-hero, but Frank is introduced sneakily as this exceptional educator and a good friend. The film plays with the viewer’s expectations by creating sympathy before revealing the character’s real face. We see how his charisma lets him get away with anything, and the scriptwriter allows the viewer to experience it first-hand.

Frank wins the hearts of the teachers as well as the audience so easily. He can get anyone to agree with his plans. But the irony is in his name: Frank is not honest at all. He is all about the looks, as emphasized in the scene where he has cosmetic surgery. He is a performer who manages to create the image he wants others to see when they think of him. He even succeeds in hiding his sexuality for a decade by faking a long-lost wife.

The film sheds light on how effortlessly can such a crime be committed. A few people can trust their work, and a bit of carelessness allow these people to manage massive embezzlement. Their means are not at all sly; they don’t seem to have put any effort in conspiring a scheme. The story shows how simply “allowing” things to happen can, in turn, end up being this huge scandal as it is easy to lose the thread.

Bad Education is humorous and dark, surprising, and compelling with outstanding performances. After its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film is broadcasted on HBO following the pandemic, allowing it to reach a broader audience.

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