HBO’s comedy drama Bad Education goes behind the real-life embezzlement scandal at a Long Island school district. Based on a New York magazine article titled “The Bad Superintendent,” the film details the crimes of a celebrated school superintendent Dr Frank A Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant superintendent Pamela Gluckin (Allison Janney).
After it comes to light that Gluckin has used tax payer’s money for her personal needs, the scandal threatens to destroy the reputation of the entire school district.
Frank, who has some dirty secrets of his own, gives an impression of sense and calm to persuade his superiors to bury the accusation. He argues that the school district is on the verge of becoming the topmost in the entire country, and this scandal, should it ever come to light, would ensure that never happens.
Gluckin offers to pay the entire amount and also agrees reluctantly to resign. But a clever student working for the school publication Rachel Bhargava (played brilliantly by Miracle Workers actor Geraldine Viswanathan) sniffs malfeasance, including made-up businesses being paid exorbitant amounts of money, and convinces her editor to publish the story.
Bad Education is an engrossing comedy drama. Though it is a comedy and also has many characteristics of an out-and-out satire, it treats its subject matter — corruption in academia — with the gravity it deserves.
Both Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney play complex, three-dimensional characters full of vulnerabilities, and the actors do full justice to their roles.
Jackman’s Frank Tassone is kind of a showman with countless expensive suits and a love for opulence. And he uses the school district money to indulge his wants. He is all about semblances. When it all falls apart, the illusion also shatters, and we see the real persona beneath, and the subsequent meltdown, though quite unsettling, is gripping to watch.
And so is the briefer and perversely entertaining nervous breakdown of Janney’s Gluckin early on in the film. If not for anything else, watch Bad Education for these two phenomenal talents at the top of their game.
In Bad Education, there is also a nuanced commentary on the state of public education in the United States – how appearances are given more importance in institutions than education itself. And a lot of it could apply to Indian schools and colleges as well, especially some of the private institutions. Fortunately, that commentary does not overshadow the drama, which is great because Bad Education is one of the finest movies of the year so far.
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