Stream It Or Skip It: Bad Education on HBO, a Funny White-Collar-Crook Bio Featuring Hugh Jackmans Best Performance Yet – News Lagoon

Posted: April 26, 2020 at 3:45 am

Writer Mike Makowsky was a firsthand witness of sorts to the real-life events inspiring Bad Education, which debuted at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and now sees wide launch via HBO. He was a six-year-old student in Roslyn Public Schools when he first met Frank Tassone, and witnessed firsthand how revered and influential the superintendent was until he was busted in 2004 for embezzling millions from the district, engineering the largest school theft in American history. With Makwoskys close ties to the saga, and Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney cast as leads, will the movie be more than just another based-on-a-true-story story?

The Gist: Roslyn High School is fourth in the country in college-acceptance rates. Fourth! And its all due to Frank Tassone. He meticulously grooms himself in the morning, spritzing cologne on his neck and plucking stray nose hairs. He walks into his office, decorated with silver balloons shaped like 4s, a snow day magic wand and issues of Life Extension magazine. He says absolutely perfect things to a helicopter parent hyperventilating about her sons troubles in school. He inspires a young journalist from the school paper to write more than just a puff piece about the schools multimillion-dollar skywalk project. Hes thanked with a basket of candy from local real estate developers, who love him for making the district great and therefore inspiring skyrocketing property values.

At lunchtime, Frank sits in the football-stadium bleachers with assistant super/business manager Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney). He laments the health-food smoothie hes consuming. I would kill somebody for a carb right now, he says, and she feeds him a big honking bite of her pastrami-on-rye. He leads the local ladies book club, and attendees didnt even read the selection. Theyre in awe of him, in his crisp light-blue oxford with white collar and cuffs adorned with fancy cufflinks. He offers to help with the dishes, and the hostess leans in, but he leans away. The memory of his late wife is too fresh, he says.

He goes to Vegas for a conference, and dutifully attends snoozy lectures while his colleagues gamble. Afterward, he sits down for a drink and recognizes the bartender: Kyle Contreras (Rafael Casal), a former student from 15 years ago when he taught English. Frank remembers his name, because he remembers everybodys name, because he and Gluckin stay at work late so she can quiz him on everybodys name. He and Kyle have dinner, and then go back to Franks hotel room and make out and then the movie cuts away. Hey now.

So about that young journalist, Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan). Shes no longer OK with writing a crappy puff piece, so she confidently plops down in Gluckins office and asks about project budgets and contractor bids. Gluckin is only slightly icy when she tosses Rachel the key to the firetrap basement records room, although if Rachel saw Gluckins seaside near-manse and Corvette convertible, she might have even more questions about how a public school administrators humble salary can indulge such extravagant tastes. I mean, Gluckins husband is a car salesman. Gluckins niece (Annaleigh Ashford) is the office secretary who helps Rachel make a zillion photocopies of school records with some big numbers on them, and it seems like only a matter of time before some of the people in charge around there are something that rhymes with glucked.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Remember how Philip Seymour Hoffman totally owned Owning Mahowny, playing a buttoned-up gambling addict who bilked big stacks of cash from the bank he worked for? You dont? (Does anybody whos not a movie critic remember?) Well, watch the damn thing, and youll see a character whos pretty much the opposite of Frank Tarrone in a similar stressful situation.

Performance Worth Watching: This is easily one of Jackmans best performances possibly THE best, especially in the first act, when hes sparklingly charming. And the second act, when he tries to keep all the squirming puppies in the box And in the third act, when he shows how a life of subterfuge sad on one hand, infuriating on the other can quickly crumble, and he makes a hard left into villainy.

Memorable Dialogue: Skywalk is big. Gets us to first!, Frank chirps.

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) and Makowsky initially strike the perfect, slyly satirical gettin-away-with-it tone, then, as soon as Gluckin goes up in flames and locks angry eyes with Frank for throwing her under the bus, seamlessly segue to I-feel-like-Im-sitting-on-an-atomic-bomb-waiting-for-it-to-go-off suspenseful drama. They nurture uniformly excellent performances, from Jackmans multifaceted charisma to Janneys trademark irascibility to Ray Romanos fluster as the school-board president to Viswanathans earnestness, which anchors the story.

The filmmakers cleverly embed character bits in the movies little visual details. The way Frank is yanked off a beanbag chair while chatting with sixth-graders so he can be informed of Gluckins malfeasance, for example. Or, in a touch of shrewd symbolism, how he carefully applies concealer to his eye wrinkles. Or how Rachel spreads out the schools sketchy budget paperwork on the floor of her bedroom with a pile of period-specific Beanie Babies watching. This is a terrific movie, smart, character-driven, frequently funny and highly entertaining.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Bad Education bullseyes the sweet spot between realism and elevated drama, making it several cuts above the usual based-on-a-true-story fodder.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

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