BAD EDUCATION: FILM REVIEW
My takeaway from Bad Education is derived from a chapter of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror called “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” where she relays stories about infamous scams in history, from Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos to Donald Trump’s presidency. As we live in a capitalistic society obsessed with the idea of being at the top, with little to no regard for the process of getting there, it seems that scamming is inevitable. The true story that Bad Education exposes about school administrators stealing from a Long Island school’s budget further solidifies the notion that people in this country will always end up abusing trust for profit.
Directed by Cory Finley, Bad Education takes place at Rosyln High School, the fourth-ranked public school in the Rosyln Union Free School District in Long Island. Its superintendent, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), and assistant superintendent, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), have fought tooth and nail to move the school up the ranks. Their efforts allow students, teachers, and neighborhood residents to reap gracious rewards, as the district becomes more appealing for families to live and an increased percentage of students get into highly competitive colleges.
Frank is radiant and well-liked -- the type of guy that seems like his words match his actions. The chemistry between Pam and Frank also seems ideal, as the two hang out after hours and indulge in each other’s personal lives while still maintaining a professional relationship. The set-up of this film pushes the viewer to think, what’s not to love? However, the school’s success is only at a surface level, as behind-the-scenes embezzlement is soon uncovered, stemming from the school’s most trusted authorities.
The cinematography of Bad Education highlights an eerie quality to the school, painting it almost as a perfectly arranged line of dominos: one push and it could all come crashing down. The contrasts within the school are clear. While Frank has a massive office complete with a mahogany bookshelf and wears a crisp suit every morning, parts of the ceiling at school still leak. In front of teachers and students, the administrators boast about getting kids into college, but at board meetings the only talk of town is the Skywalk, Rosyln High’s expensive construction project that is not only supposed to connect two wings of the school together, but more importantly, put them at number one. While attempting to rise in the ranks for the good of the school and the neighborhood is not necessarily a bad thing, the administration ends up trading education for prestige and the ones paying the greatest cost are the students they are supposed to serve.
The one who ultimately pushes the line of dominos down is a student journalist named Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan) who suspects something fishy is going on with the school budget. While she originally sets out on an assignment to uncover the Skywalk’s budget, she ends up digging through school records that show false invoices and charges from companies that don’t exist. The film emphasizes the role that Rachel plays in uncovering the school’s scandal and releasing her findings to the public. As Frank tries to stop her, saying that the situation is “complicated” and that her actions will have consequences she can’t even begin to understand, the viewer realizes how disillusioned older people become, as they make a string of excuses for objectively bad moral judgements. From student reporter Rachel’s eyes, the decision to tell the truth is not so complicated, nor should it be.
My appreciation for Bad Education largely stems from the way it exposes how people in positions of privilege will go out of their way to scam a system they have benefitted from. The end of the film reveals that in real life, the administrators involved were only sentenced to 4-12 years in prison and still receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension annually from the state of New York. Similarly, actress Lori Laughlin was recently sentenced to a mere two months in prison for being involved in one of the largest college-admissions bribery scandals in history. Bad Education holds up a magnifying glass to the way all facets of this country are entangled with prestige and money, from its education to its criminal justice system, as crimes of fraud are rarely put to rest and in fact, are encouraged.