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Five Cent Cine At Home: Bad Education

Likeable Crooks

Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney pull out all the stops as Superintendent Frank Tassone and Assistant Superintendent Pam Gluckin of the Roslyn School District.  Tassone’s calculated charm and Gluckin’s attention to financial detail have propelled the high school in this well-off Long Island suburb to #4 in the nation. In the long, slow set-up of “Bad Education,” Tassone caters to helicopter parents, memorizes his teachers’ hobbies, and coddles students with unctuous caring for their needs.

Along comes earnest student reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), doing a puff piece for the school newspaper on the high-priced and glitzy “Skywalk” the district wants to build, part of Tassone’s plan to get the school the attention it needs to be #1. In the process, Rachel uncovers millions of dollars gone astray. Not for lab equipment or pizza ovens, not for repair of the crumbling buildings, but for Tassone’s gay lover in the City and his face lift, for Gluckin’s home expansion and her daughter’s private college tuition.

These aren’t spoilers. The heart of the film isn’t suspense over what might happen; it’s the unalloyed, guilt-free hubris of the perps. Tassone thinks he deserves his lavish lifestyle. An undercurrent of jealousy of, and disdain for, white upper-class privilege runs through his critique of the wealthy students’ parents and Roslyn’s School Board, including its president (Ray Romano). Commiserating with a mother who insists her child—who cannot pronounce “accelerated”— be in the “accelerated class,” he finally explodes, “What is MY problem? My problem is YOU. It’s the people who trot their poor children out like racehorses at Belmont; who derive some perverse joy out of treating us like low-level service reps.”

‘Bad Education’ resonates with the 2019 college admissions cheating scandal.

“Bad Education” resonates with the 2019 college admissions cheating scandal, except that Roslyn reached the top 10 without, it appears, cheating. Tassone’s goal—and that of the students and the parents—is the national ranking, and it’s unrelated to the corruption.

Perhaps for that reason the film makes these crooks likeable. It spends relatively little time on the student reporter who uncovers the scandal. Gluckin’s crookedness, which is in the family DNA down to her son and niece, is incongruously funny. Like Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018), Jackman and Janney may be just too good at playing bad guys.

This straight-to-TV film raises serious questions: What level of corruption are we willing to tolerate to get what we want? (The parents crave and celebrate the school’s high status; the students get into better colleges, home values rise). Is a level of corruption tolerated everywhere? Are most of us easily taken in by charismatic but seemingly corrupt performers—today, a President and a governor—who tell us we can be bigger than we are?

The sharp-tongued script and superb acting (Jackman and Janney could show up in the 2020 Oscar nominations), especially Jackman playing against type as a gay man with a spouse in one city and a young lover in another, make “Bad Education” good—not great—Hollywood.

Director Cory Finley, for whom this is a second feature, lived this story; he was a middle school student in the Roslyn system in 2004 when the real Tassone was hauled off to jail.

Available: Streaming HBO

Date: 2019; released in US straight to TV in 2020.

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Cory Finley

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Ray Romano

Runtime: 108 minutes

With movie theaters closed, Five Cent Cine is shifting gears. “2 film critics” will continue our usual reviewing schedule of about 3 movies per month, now labeled Five Cent Cine At Home, with all of those films available streaming or for rent or purchase. Each review will list (at the top) the source(s) for you to access the film in your own living room or bedroom.

In addition, we’ll be posting a “Streamer of the Week,” a review from our catalogue (more than 110 reviews dating to mid-2016) of a film available for streaming—a way to revisit a film you’ve already seen or to decide you would enjoy.

Also see reviews on…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Manchester by the Sea

Until The Birds Return


Two Popes

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Lighthouse

Eighth Grade

The Traitor (Il Traditore)

Free Solo

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sorry to Bother You


Hidden Figures

Ford v Ferrari

Captain Fantastic

First Cow


Ordinary Love

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco



Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman


Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)



Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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