Hugh Jackman delivers a career highlight in ‘Bad Education’
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
In this pandemic, most movies have been shuffled off to next year. This has made this month’s crop of movies very small, with only a few select on demand releases sticking to their original schedule. One of them is the Cory Finley’s Bad Education. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and scooped up by HBO, Bad Education could have appeared and left the usually crowded movie scene with barely any notice. However, with the number of movies premiering in April being so few, Bad Education had a bigger spotlight than what it probably would have had during normal circumstances. It captured the moment—becoming one of the best movies of the year on any platform.
In this film, based on a true and huge scandal, Hugh Jackman delivers the best performance of his career (which is really saying a lot). He plays Frank Tassone, the superintendent of the Roslyn New York school district. Through his hard work and dedication to the district and students, Tassone has managed to get the Roslyn school district a reputation as the fourth best in the United States. Tassone is amazing at his job—he remembers every student who ever met him by name, and also property values in the district went up a lot due to his work. But, like some educators, he is underappreciated—getting only a basket of chocolates from real estate agents as a thank you.
Jackman hits all the right notes with this role. He plays Tassone with such charisma that throughout the movie it never feels like Tassone is an outright villain. In the town of Roslyn, he is considered to be living a life of poverty compared to the rich and affluent parents of the children. The movie showcases the struggle that Tassone goes through when trying to maintain appearances for parents who might reject him if he does not conform to the image Roslyn demands.
Another performance not to be forgotten is Allison Janney as Tassone’s assistant superintendent and friend Pam Gluckin. Gluckin is everything that Tassone is not. While liked by the other people in the office, Gluckin does not meet with the students, parents, or people in the community. She is a lot rougher around the edges compared to her counterpart and, in a way, I feel she is the true face of the struggle and sacrifice that some teachers and administrators have to go through in order to give their students the best education.
This film is on one hand about self-preservation, but is also a film about morality. This comes from the character of Rachel Bhargava, played wonderfully by up-and-coming actress Geraldine Viswanathan. Bhargava is a writer for the Roslyn High School newspaper. While researching for a story on the building of a skywalk at her school, she uncovers various accounting discrepancies in the books. When Tassone realizes that Bhargava is onto them, he approaches her and tells her that if she goes public with this, many people are at risk of losing their jobs. Bhargava’s editor-in-chief tells her that with people like Tassone are writing his college recommendations, and other students colleges may be in jeopardy. This leaves Bhargava with a tough decision. Should she report the story, or should she bury it and live with the guilt that she chose not to say anything?
Bhargava’s struggle in the movie got me thinking about what
I and my fellow cohorts at the Other Press would do
with a similar story. Assistant Editor Janis McMath stressed that every situation needs to be looked at individually, but the best broad generalization would be that scandals do more harm in the long run and tally more victims as time passes—so it is essential to expose the truth instead of sitting on it. Life and Style Editor Morgan Hannah said “penalizing the victims wouldn’t be cool… but maybe there’s a way to report the story without having to bury it?”
Bad Education tackles a lot of subjects such as preservation, morality, and identity—and handles all of them with tremendous depth and tact. Come Emmy season (if it happens), Bad Education will surely be in the discussion with Jackman’s role an early favourite for the Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film. Jackman gives possibly the best performance of his career in a TV movie. In a year of unexpected surprises, this is one of the better ones of the year.