Previously reviewed as part of JoBlo.com’s TIFF 2019 coverage.
PLOT: A high school superintendent (Hugh Jackman) and his underlings use their unlimited access to school funds to finance their high-flying lifestyles, but when one of them makes a mistake, the whole system threatens to come crashing down.
REVIEW: BAD EDUCATION has some intriguing history behind it. Based on a true story, the film’s screenwriter, Mike Makowsky, was actually a student at the school when this all went down. Certainly, it’s a weird little story and a compelling vehicle for star Hugh Jackman. With the film’s recent sale to HBO, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackman walk away with an Emmy nomination for his work here as Frank Tassone, the unscrupulous head of a scheme that should have never worked, but did for years and years.
It’s the follow-up to the underrated THOROUGHBREDS for director Cory Finley, adopting a similar black comedy feel, although this doesn’t get anywhere near as dark. One thing that’s especially interesting about Finley’s film is how a balance is struck between sympathy for Jackman and his cronies and the need we feel to see them all taken down.
Tassone’s an intriguing character. Deeply closeted, the money he pockets allows him to keep a former student lover living in style in another state, while paying for his facelifts and penthouse apartment. Yet, of all of them he’s portrayed the most sympathetically, with Allison Janney chewing scenery as the closest thing the movie has a to villain, his assistant who’s greed is so out of control it’s bound to send the whole system crashing down, especially when her doltish son, “American Vandal”‘s Jimmy Tatro, gets involved.
In some ways, BAD EDUCATION feels similar to the recent I, TONYA, opting to give the perpetrators a chance to express how they justify their crimes, with many of them saying over and over that school administrators should be better rewarded financially, which makes sense but also note the even more under-paid teachers had nothing to do with this scheme.
BLOCKERS breakout star Geraldine Viswanathan has a great part as the student journalist looking to blow the lid off the scheme, with Finely also devoting a lot of time to her troubled home life, with her own father having been accused of financial crimes of his own, giving her extra motivation to see justice done. HEREDITARY’s Alex Wolff has a smallish part as her editor, who juggles his own need to go with the flow and the fact that the story she’s digging up is killer. Ray Romano, who’s in the middle an an amazing rebirth as a character actor (which began with his underrated turn on the cancelled-too-soon “Men of a Certain Age”) also has a nice role as one of the parents serving on the school board, who’s easily manipulated by Jackman’s slick smoothie.
Had BAD EDUCATION played a few years ago, during a better marketplace for the mini-majors, I think it would have gotten picked up a mainstream theatrical release. It’s certainly as entertaining as any of the big acquisitions out of Sundance last year – heck – had it made its debut there it might have already opened in theaters, Sadly, the business is changing, but at least on HBO people will get a chance to see this entertaining true story, and appreciate Jackman really stretching out in an atypical character part.
BAD EDUCATION starts playing on HBO this Saturday.