Following Cory Finley’s Sundance breakthrough with the sickeningly sharp Thoroughbreds, the obviously talented director took everything up a notch. While his icy eye for the camera is immediate, he also seemed just as gifted as a writer. Every review of his first feature was commending him on the film’s look and feel. Considering the cast of his latest film, it appears plenty of Hollywood took note. With his sophomore feature, Finley is acting as somewhat of a hired hand, a skilled up-comer who could handle this material nicely, but the results are equally if not more terrific. While his style doesn’t seep through the frame like it did with his debut, Bad Education features slippery and smart writing and fantastic performances all around.
It doesn’t seem much like Bad Education is an auteur project, bearing in mind that this film wasn’t written by Finley, but by I Think We’re Alone Now scribe Mike Makowsky. Makowsky was a student when the film’s scandal broke and his deft telling of the story is what holds the tale together. In an interview for Medium.com, he talked about how he remembers Dr. Frank Tassone (an incredible Hugh Jackman) and how his Long Island community viewed him. It’s hard to forget a figure like Tassone though — with his suave figure, talent for remembering every student, and incredible touch for changes to his school district. He’s a dream superintendent. His school sends a dozen students to Ivy’s every year, and it’s some of the time it’s because Tassone has written recommendation letters himself. Along with his partner in crime, assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), Tassone has changed everything about this boring Long Island town for the better.
Except for one pesky detail: the superintendent and assistant superintendent have been quietly embezzling millions of dollars from the school, and the first person to figure this out was one of their incredibly bright, Ivy-ready students. After starting a puff piece for the school’s new sky walk, student journalist Rachel Bhargava (Blockers and Hala breakout Geraldine Viswanathan, excellent in her quieter role) starts to look a bit deeper into the papers and finances of the school. Noticing discrepancies, Bhargava pokes around until she finds fake companies, a Fifth Ave apartment, and the biggest scandal that a Long Island burgh could hope for.
Geraldine Viswanathan is the heart and soul of Bad Education if Hugh Jackman is the movie’s body and guts. Both deliver tremendous performances, but both are doing specifically tricky things. Viswanathan turns a potentially bland character, a composite of Roslyn High School’s Student Paper writers, into a sharp kid that feels just as fully realized as the real people that populate the rest of the film. Still, with a career of great performances, Jackman makes Tassone one of his best yet. Tassone in real life is almost already playing a character, putting up a front for his district. Jackman manages to make you understand why his character has gotten to this place in his life and why he needs to put up that performance. As he recounts to school board member Bob Spicer (Ray Romano), it’s a slippery slope that starts with an accident and goes from there. With an amazing cast and a remarkable script, Cory Finley illustrates this scandal better than anyone else could.
Bad Education is Now Streaming on HBO