Bad Education Film Review: Hugh Jackman’s Gay in Fact-Based Dramedy

Enjoying its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Bad Education is a fact-based dramedy about an infamous school-larceny scandal that rocked Long Island.

Bad Education director Cory Finley recruited an all-star cast featuring performances by Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano and Geraldine Viswanathan. The crowd-pleasing film was snatched up by HBO for $20 million at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, among the most expensive festival buys ever.

Bad Education Film Review: Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney star in Cory Finley's latest feature.
Bad Education Film Review: Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney star in Cory Finley’s latest feature.

Bad Education Film Review

Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) reign over a popular Long Island school district on the verge of reaching the nation’s top spot. The school’s successes spur record setting college admissions and soaring local property values.

Frank, always immaculately groomed and tailored, is a master of positive messaging, whether before an audience of community leaders or in an office with a concerned student or parent. It seems Frank can do no wrong, until a student reporter (Geraldine Viswanathan) decides to dig deep into Roslyn School District’s expense reports and begins to uncover an embezzlement scheme of epic proportions.

Inspired by a true story, Cory Finley’s Bad Education film is a brilliantly casted and a darkly hilarious chronicle of a $11.2 million dollar embezzlement scheme, purportedly the largest financial crime in the history of the US school system.

The film offers a master class in duplicity, with the charismatic school superintendent taking extreme measures to not only shield himself and his colleagues from the law, but also to keep his carefully constructed façade from cracking.

Bad Education’s storyline sheds a light on a series of timely and topical themes. In a time when America is constantly having a conversation around “fake news,” the hero of this story is a student reporter keen to unveil the truth. Offering another example to why journalism is such an important part of a healthy and just society. Bad Education will also offer plenty of conversation around America’s recent College admission scandal. Many of the members of the community who try to cover up the scandal do so to ensure the school’s rankings don’t drop. Parents are worried if the truth is unveiled their students won’t get into their preferred private school, while local real estate agent’s fear market will tank.

Bad Education cast and crew Q&A at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Bad Education Gay Themes

One of Bad Education’s most endearing narratives relates to Frank Tassone’s secret sexuality. The audience slowly discovers the star superintendent is gay behind closed doors. While it appears his colleague Pam Gluckin’s is in-the-know on his sexual interests, the town assumes he’s a single straight man ripe for the plucking.

Hugh Jackman brilliantly showcases with subtle nuance the anxiety that builds as a hero loses his crown. While any other crook would be worried about the financial crimes committed, an additional layer of angst is present as the protagonist grapples with the stress of keeping his love life private.

In Bad Education, Tassone’s sexuality is used as a shifting plot point, exposing how easy it is to lie about many facets of ones life. Jackman embodies the aging gay man archetype with ease. We see his iteration of Tassone, obsessed with the perfection of his appearance, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of school funds on dry cleaning bills, designer suits, haircuts and even plastic surgery.

Director Corey Finley does an excellent job at weaving Makowsky’s story of deceit between the protagonists financial crimes and his more personal shame over his sexuality.

We first realize Tassone is gay when he attends an educators conference in Las Vegas. At the hotel bar he encounters a young man, who years back was one of his star students. They return to his hotel room and embark on an evening of unexpected passion. Tassone continues his long distance relationship with his lover in Vegas, what seems like an attempt to cling to his own sense of youth.

When the film’s fearless student reporter take the train to Manhattan to check out one of the suspicious suppliers on her hit list, she arrives at a luxurious condo, greeted by an older gay man. Moments later Tassone arrives to the apartment after work and discovers his student snooping around. He’s now faced with shifting fears, being exposed for fraud as well as his sexual orientation.

Bad Education’s gay narrative digs deeper towards its conclusion. Once Tassone realizes the seriousness of his situation, he impulsively flies back to Vegas to see his young lover. The duo dance under a disco ball at a local gay bar, passionately kissing in public for the first time. Hugh Jackman’s string of memorable man-on-man smooches in Bad Education make it one of the best gay films at TIFF 2019.

After the couple return home, police sirens sound off in the distance and moments later our soon-to-be imprisoned protagonist is taken away in a cop car. Later, when police question the mysterious man in the luxurious Manhattan apartment the audience discovers he’s been in a common law relationship with Tassone for years. The police reveal that his seemingly perfect partner was found in Vegas after purchasing a home for a much younger man.

The audience realizes with crystal clarity that Tassone’s immoral actions didn’t just live within his work, but infested his life, deeply wounding his friends and family.

Making the Bad Education Film

Screenwriter Mike Makowsky, who was a student in the Roslyn School District when the scandal became public in the mid-’00s, jumped out at director Corey Finley. The filmmaker comments, “In a world flooded with predictable genre pieces, it was marvellously undefinable, with a precise and appealingly tricky comic tone.”

Finley adds, “I also related to it very deeply, on many levels: I have a family full of educators working in both public and private schools, and I worked for years myself as an SAT tutor, so the complexities of American education (and especially the ways it interacts with economics and class) are fascinating and personal to me. Mike’s script was a singular, surprising way into those issues. I’m drawn to morally complex leads, and Frank’s slow collapse under the weight of his own deceptions felt vividly real to me.”

For Bad Education’s screenwriter Mike Makowsky, crafting the true-to-life narrative was deeply personal. “I grew up in Roslyn, New York a suburb of Long Island, in the early 2000s and attended their public-school district for the duration of my primary education.”

Makowsky adds, “Our district superintendent was a man named Frank Tassone, a supremely personable and passionate educator who was incredibly popular among the parents and taxpayers in our town. In his twelve years at Roslyn, he’d revolutionized our education system to the extent that the Wall Street Journal listed us as one of the top public-school districts in America. More students were getting into Ivy League schools, doing better on their SATs. Property values in the town went up considerably. So if Tassone requested a bigger school budget, parents were happy to oblige.”

Makowsky was in awe at how the scandal broke, “I was probably too young at the time to fully understand the implications of what had happened. But in high school, while on staff at our newspaper, The Hilltop Beacon, I realized that the student reporters at the time actually broke the story – the New York Times only ever reported on it after one of their writers saw the copy of the Beacon his son had brought home from school. Which seemed craziest of all.”

In 2016, Makowsky went back to Roslyn to do his own research – speaking with old teachers, parents and taxpayers who experienced the scandal and its ramifications on a deeper first-hand level. He was even able to talk with the student reporter who broke the story for the Beacon.

Bad Education’s Cast of Characters

Every new twist in the Bad Education film’s plot is conveyed by Jackman and Janney, the perfect pair to carry off their characters’ journey of camaraderie, conspiracy, and betrayal. Finley comments, “I knew that to tell the story the way I wanted to, the number-one most critical aspect of Frank was a bone-deep, sincere sense of goodness. I’ve found this to be one of Hugh’s most wonderful qualities: he’s a throwback movie star, and his charm makes the character’s arc as surprising and ultimately devastating as it is. And Alison is an absolute powerhouse, able to flip from comedy to tragedy on a dime.”

The Bad Education filmmaker adds, “The two of them had never worked together, but they got along instantly, and anyone would have thought they were old friends. They’re both stellar improvisers, and I learned quickly that if I didn’t call “cut” at the end of the scene, they could keep going indefinitely. A throwaway moment in an early scene where Pam gives Frank a bite of her sandwich became a fully-improvised comic set piece this way, with the sandwich becoming a delightfully bizarre little microcosm of their characters’ longstanding relationship.”

Geraldine Viswanathan’s character as a student reporter is central to the Bad Education story. She plays a composite character, inspired by several journalists at Roslyn’s Hilltop Beacon that played a role in bringing the scandal to light. Filmmaker Cory Finley explains, “Viswanathan’s character, I think, is Mike’s smartest structural move as a writer. She’s a foil to Frank, a dogged investigator with a deep backstory of her own. In some way’s she’s also the movie’s toughest role to nail, and in lesser hands could have come off opaque. But Geraldine brings her an incredible humanity and specificity.”

Bad Education

Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this fact-based dramedy directed by Cory Finley about an infamous school-larceny scandal that rocked Long Island.

Date Created: September 11, 2019

Runtime: 108 min

  • Genre:
  • Comedy
  • Producers:
  • Fred Berger,
  • Julia Lebedev,
  • Brian Kavanaugh-Jones,
  • Oren Moverman,
  • Mike Makowsky,
  • Eddie Vaisman,
  • Director:
  • Cory Finley
  • Writer:
  • Cast:
  • Hugh Jackman,
  • Geraldine Viswanathan,
  • Ray Romano,
  • Allison Janney,
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