By: Amanda Guarragi
Cory Finley’s sophomore film, Bad Education is based off a real scandal that took place at the Roslyn school district in Long Island, New York. The Long Island superintendent Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) are credited with bringing prestige to Roslyn. Finley’s masterfully directs this piece with precision and does not miss a beat when telling this story. The film shows fraudulent activity in the school system, while deconstructing the lives of these administrators.
Finley opens the film with Frank Tassone preparing to make his debut at the Roslyn school district. He walks through the halls and makes his way to the auditorium, where Big Bob Spicer (Ray Romano) introduces him. The moment we first see Frank, we get a sense that he’s going to do some good for this school district, his presence is inviting and he has a calm demeanor. As the story unfolds, we notice that Tassone is dedicated to make the school a better place for the children and wants to get feedback from the children. We see that Tassone’s friendship with Pam Gluckin is genuine and they have known each other for a long time. Finley plays off of subtleties on screen and allows the audience to calculate the subtext instead of spelling things out for them. I think that’s one of the reason’s he’s one of the most exciting directors working today.
He also chose to bookend the film and he did it by using the same sequence at the beginning of the film. The only difference is that Finley had Tassone walk out of a jail cell and up to the auditorium stage. In this moment, everything came full circle but his emotional connection to that memory has changed. Instead of feeling honoured that all these people were excited to have him in their school district, a wave of sadness came over him as he looked out into the crowd. In that moment, it felt like Tassone was trying to understand how it all started and why he did what he did. Hugh Jackman gave a fantastic performance and that final shot of him unleashing his pain was great. Life definitely throws curveballs and everyone wonders about the decisions they’ve made and if they’re the right ones.
Frank Tassone was also leading a double life and as the film went on, we begin to understand the life he had chosen to lead. Frank was very secretive and presented himself in the way he wanted others to see him. The same goes with Pam Gluckin, she had struggled in her own life with her family but with the way she carried herself, you couldn’t tell that anything was wrong. Allison Janney also gives another stellar performance alongside Hugh Jackman and their chemistry was very strong. The one thing that we can take away from this film, is that there are no bad people, just bad decisions based off of opportunity.
Bad Education is well written and executed with such finesse from Cory Finley. He has such a distinct eye when it comes to diving deep into the soul of his characters. It’s filled with dark humour, electric performances and leaves you thinking about how the education system can be flawed. Everyone can start out wanting to do the right thing, they would go to school and see what interests them enough to eventually pursue a career in that field. However, life does get in the way and opportunity and greed are things that often trump linear decisions.