Bad Education is very good and anchored by great performances. The new HBO movie is like a top rated school, it has important lessons to teach and brilliant instructors imparting the information.
The movie is a telling of a true story from a Long Island, NY public school back in the early 2000s. Frank Tassone, the superintendent played by Hugh Jackman, has turned the high school into one of America’s top ten public schools. His right-hand-woman, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) handles the district finances. And when times are good, most people don’t ask questions. Questions like: why is Pam signing off on $30,000 in Frank’s dry cleaning? Or $20,000 in airfare on the Concorde? You don’t have to be a five-star school to know those numbers don’t add up.
Things start to unravel when a writer for the student paper, encouraged by Frank, starts taking a deep dive into line-item budget billing. (This is boring, tedious work for experienced journalists, much less high school juniors. Trust me.)
While the story is good, it’s the performances that make this movie stand out.
I’m just going to say it: Allison Janney is great in everything she does. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in something and not enjoyed her performance. Even if the show is shite, she shines. As Pam, she embodies the school administrator archetype and elevates it as a woman protecting her hidden hoard. She turns from patronizingly sweet to defensively sharp in, literally, the blink of an eye. We are as jarred as the student she’s working with.
Then there’s Hugh, proving once again he’s one of the greatest showmen working today. Frank isn’t just a greedy man trying to scam extra perks from an underpaid job where he over performs. He is living so many lies, so many double and even triple lives even he starts to get confused by what’s real. Hugh is a great dancer in real life, and the way he makes Frank dance through his web of lies before inevitably getting tangled up is mastery.
And while I’m at it, let’s give some big ups to Ray Romano. He plays a school board member trying to hold Frank and Pam accountable while also protecting his real estate business (strong schools=strong property values) and is one of those more than happy to avoid asking questions. He plays a representative of the people who were supposed to be watching out for the kids and he does it well. This is his second strong supporting actor in six months. He was also great last fall as Bill Bufalino in The Irishman.
Bad Education is an intriguing story that will have helicopter parents demanding to take a closer look at the budget’s of their precious kids’ schools. But its best part is in the performances, which are some of the best you’re going to see this year.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
White Claw. It’s what high school juniors are chugging these days (Gen Z’s version of Zima).