365体育投注Forced to confront an unexpected crisis, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman, foreground center) marshals his thoughts while the members of his school board apprehensively wait for another shoe to fall. Courtesy photo


‘Bad Education’: Actually, it’s terrific!

‘Bad Education’

Four stars 

Starring:365体育投注 Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Annaleigh Ashford, Rafael Casal and Stephen Spinella

Rating:365体育投注 TV-MA, for considerable profanity

Jaw-dropping actual events fuel this brilliant dark comedy

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Boy, this one couldn’t be better timed.

As we continue to be astonished by the actions of the wealthy, arrogant twits who conspired with Rick Singer to cheat their children into top-flight universities — and the additional hubris of the few parents who blithely insist that they didn’t know their actions were wrong — it’s essential to be reminded that such behavior is nothing new.

365体育投注Director Cory Finley’s “Bad Education” isn’t merely a marvelously scathing piece of filmmaking, anchored by top-flight performances from Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney; it’s also a crafty cautionary tale lifted from actual events. Mike Makowsky’s script is impressively faithful to what actually went down at a prestigious Long Island high school in 2002.

365体育投注The HBO original film airs many times during the next few weeks, starting Sunday and Monday evenings (and also is available to stream, via HBO Go or HBO Now).

But do yourself a favor: Don’t investigate until after365体育投注 watching this film. Much of its fun comes from the way Finley and Makowsky tease, hint and beguile us during their initial two acts, with a subtly snarky tone that often belies the atmosphere of impending doom — of what sort, we initially can’t imagine — that hangs over these proceedings.

365体育投注Considerable credit goes to Jackman, for his (typically) charismatic portrayal of Frank Tassone, the capable, extraordinarily successful and much-revered superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district. Finley opens the film on tight close-ups of Frank, as he primps and dresses in tailored CEO apparel for another typical day at work: at first blush, a sequence of disarming banality.

But Frank’s glance in the mirror lingers perhaps half a beat too long, his satisfied smile perhaps just a shade too narcissistic.

365体育投注Jackman’s performance throughout is laden with such subtle tics, twitches and gestures, slyly suggesting that — at all times — Frank, himself, is adjusting, modulating and refining a performance.

Or maybe the man is simply vain, physically fit and fastidiously diet-conscious, forever swilling health drinks that resemble liquid charcoal. Nothing wrong with that, as long as he delivers. And Frank definitely has delivered during his tenure, building Roslyn High School into the state’s fourth-highest performer for seniors admitted to prestigious universities.

With that has come a corresponding rise in property values and community wealth, delighting realtors, the school board, and all the rest of Roslyn’s movers and shakers. As far as they’re concerned, Tassone walks on water.

It’s hard to argue, particularly as Jackman radiantly portrays him.

He’s also patient with even the most troublesome parents, who aggressively insist that their little Johnnies and Susans are gifted to a degree matched only by Stephen Hawking, and therefore deserve all manner of additional privileges.

Stephanie Kurtzuba makes us wince, in her teeth-grinding appearance as a haughty tiger mom insulted by the way her young son has been “mistreated” by his teacher. There’s no question that Finley and Makowsky shade her as an insufferable pain in the tush (and boy, that stereotype strikes familiar bells). We can’t help feeling sorry for Frank, while admiring the grace with which he caters to her: a master at granting such snooty “peers of the realm” that to which they believe they’re entitled.

Frank’s primary aide-de-camp is Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), the district’s assistant superintendent for business; even at first blush, their passive/aggressive relationship seems less like that of colleagues, and more like partners in … something. Their sparring frequently has a subtle edge, always accompanied by one of Janney’s malevolent, wide-grinned slow takes (one of her longtime signatures).

Pay attention to her body language early on, and that of Jackman, when Frank and Pam chat on the school bleachers during lunch hour one day. He’s gagging through another plastic cup of black glop, and she tortures him with a pastrami sandwich.

365体育投注Literature buffs may gain an additional clue from Frank’s fondness for Charles Dickens; an adjective derived from a character in “Martin Chuzzlewit” is quite revealing.

The third primary player is Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), a junior reporter for the high school newspaper, the Hilltop Beacon. She shows up in the administration offices, seeking a pull-quote for a proposed multi-million-dollar “skywalk” project that everybody in Roslyn thinks is the bee’s knees; Frank cheerfully obliges, and then — noting the girl’s dejected aura — asks about the nature of the story.

365体育投注“It’s just a puff piece,” she replies, somewhat sadly.

Frank, unable to pass up a teachable moment, gives her an impromptu lesson in journalistic perseverance. “It’s only a puff piece,” he admonishes, with Jackman’s best kilowatt smile, “if you let365体育投注 it be a puff piece.”

365体育投注Thus, as we glimpse a spark of determination in Rachel’s eyes, is he the architect of his own destruction.

What follows is equal parts mocking dark comedy, mildly suspenseful investigative mystery (you go365体育投注, Rachel!), and increasingly incredulous revelation. It’s a brilliant tightrope walk, with Finley unerringly making us laugh and cringe (sometimes simultaneously). He and Makowsky also pay careful attention to sidebar characters, all of whom are equally memorable.

Viswanathan is totally credible as Rachel, starting with the fact that she genuinely looks like a high school junior. Viswanathan gives her just the right blend of pluck, stubborn persistence and uncertainty; she is, after all, a teenage interloper in territory governed by adult authority figures.

Hari Dhillon is nicely understated as Rachel’s father, a doting but mostly off-camera presence until he suddenly becomes quite important.

365体育投注Annaleigh Ashford is comically pitiable as Pam’s dim-bulb niece, Jenny: a nepotistic — and obviously incompetent — office co-worker who’s just beginning to perceive her job’s potential side benefits. Ashford is brilliant; watching Jenny attempt to navigate her aunt’s imperious manner is like waiting for a minnow to be swallowed by a shark.

Ray Romano is laid-back and congenial as a local real estate agent and school board chairman “Big Bob” Spicer, who couldn’t be happier about the empire that his good friend Frank has built. Ray Abruzzo adds an intriguing note of desperation to his role as Pam’s husband, Howard; we can’t help wondering what he’s worried about.

Alex Wolff is just right as Rachel’s newspaper editor, Nick, who can’t understand why a puff piece intended to be a boost for the school’s proposed skyway, seems to be blossoming into something else.

Rafael Casal and Stephen Spinella also are solid, in roles that can’t be discussed without giving too much away.

Frank Tassone and Pam Gluckin are real-world individuals; Rachel (alas!) is a composite of several Hilltop Beacon journalism students, although her actions throughout this saga accurately reflect what actually happened. The names of other key players — such as Jenny — may have been changed, but the fidelity to truth otherwise remains constant.

Makowsky’s attention to detail also is superb — down to the vanity license plate on Pam’s car — and with good reason; he attended Roslyn High School shortly after these events went down. Fascination led to a deep dive and Robert Kolker’s September 2004 New York Magazine article, and everything came together brilliantly.

As to whether the outcome here has an impact on life in these United States, moving forward … I suspect not. With the Singer scandal still making fresh headlines, it’s obvious that the rich still believe in an aristocratic class divide.

In which case, we can hope that talented filmmakers such as Finley and Makowsky will continue to shine a merrily sarcastic light on their bad behavior.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.


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