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TIFF 2019 Review: Bad Education

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Image Courtesy of TIFF

Charm can get you a lot in this world, can manage to get people to overlook all sorts of things.  It’s because of this that employees of a Long Island school district managed to defraud the taxpayers of millions of dollars.  Inspired by a true story, Bad Education tells this tale of embezzlement with some A-list help.

Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is the kind of school superintendent every district dreams about.  He is improving standardized test scores, seeing more students into more prestigious schools.  He has a memory for every child, and teacher, even getting quizzed on them by his colleague Pam Gluckin (Alison Janney).  He leads the local book club where the parents adore him.  Frank seems to have everything all in hand.  So when a student from the high school paper (Geraldine Viswanathan) starts asking questions about a school construction project he does what he always does and encourages her to dig deeper to further her quest to become a real reporter.  That encouragement ends up leading to his downfall.

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Her investigation starts to uncover strange invoices to companies that have been billing the school board for years.  Her father starts to help her chase up leads.  What she eventually reveals is even more scandalous than anyone could have believed.  And as everything starts to close in, Frank does what he does best and turns on the charm in order to try and hide an ambitious embezzlement scheme.

Hugh Jackman may not have been the first actor that comes to mind for casting as Frank Tassone but ultimately his charisma is exactly what the character needs in order to pull off his scheme.  Jackman flashes his smile and pours on the chemistry making him instantly likeable.  Even for all of his character’s treachery you still feel for him.  It’s some of his finest work.

There is likely no better sparring partner for Jackman in this feature than Allison Janney who, after her Oscar winning performance in I, Tonya presents a more restrained, though no less effective role.  Ray Romano also has a small supporting part, though is under-utilized here.

For all Frank’s vanity that is depicted director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) doesn’t exactly use the most flattering light on his stars making every wrinkle and blemish stand out as Frank tries desperately to hide them.  Outward appearances are, after all, everything.

There’s a lot to like about Bad Education, though it never fully blossoms.  However for only his second feature Finley continues to show promise and managing a cast like this only adds to his resumé.  Bad Education will surprise you, and remembering that this is a true story only adds to the shock value.

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