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Film / Bad Education (2019)

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Bad Education is a 2019 film directed by Cory Finley.

It is a based-on-a-true-story dramatization of the Roslyn, NY school district embezzlement scandal. Roslyn school superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is the popular leader of the district. In particular, he has built Roslyn High School up into the #4 school in the nation, a reliable supplier of students to Ivy League universities. He's handsome, well-dressed, and widely admired. He's about to start a big construction project, namely, a raised pedestrian walkway to connect the various buildings of Roslyn High.

He's so admired that when the district's business manager Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) is caught embezzling $250,000 from school funds, Tassone is able to talk the school board into keeping the matter quiet and not going to the cops, but instead allowing Pam to resign quietly and pay back the money. Unfortunately for Tassone, however, high school junior Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) is not as easy to placate. Rachel, a reporter for the Roslyn High paper, starts digging into the bids for the walkway and starts finding a lot of very fishy items in the district's expense reports, for much more money than the original $250K estimate. Those fishy items eventually implicate Tassone himself.

Ray Romano plays Bob Spicer, a member of the school board. Screenwriter Mike Makowsky was a middle school student in the Roslyn district when the scandal broke.

Not to be confused with BBC comedy Bad Education or Bad Education (2004).


  • Based on a True Story: The film opens with a title card saying "The following is based on a true story." The main alteration is Rachel, a Composite Character who didn't exist in real life. Otherwise the film is mostly accurate (Frank really did have two boyfriends; a vendor's address really was Frank's NYC apartment), although it gives the impression that the school newspaper's story was what broke the scandal when in reality it was an anonymous letter.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The film does an excellent job in the first act of making it look as if only Pam is stealing...but then you find out the truth about Frank as Rachel continues digging.
  • Book Ends: Begins and ends with scenes where Frank's being cheered and applauded at a public meeting. The second one's an Imagine Spot.
  • Closet Gay: Frank is depicted as having two boyfriends (one younger living in Vegas, and one longterm partner who helps with his fraud), which Rachel is shocked to discover. Frank is also shown repeatedly referring to his long-dead wife, whose picture he keeps on his desk, as a means of rejecting the advances of enthusiastic mothers. (In real life, Frank did have a wife who died young, and two boyfriends, but he was not closeted and he and his longterm partner had an open relationship.)
  • The Dandy: Frank. He spends district money on fancy suits. He puts on makeup. (He's still putting on makeup in jail!) He's revealed to have spent thirty grand on dry cleaning. He spends district money on a facelift.
  • Dramatic Drop: Not the drop, but the aftermath. Frank walks into the office to see a coffee cup lying unattended on the floor in the middle of a puddle of coffee. Everyone in the office is shocked because the school paper has just broken the story.
  • Education Mama: Mrs. Schweitzer, who keeps trying to get her poor dim son Chad into an advanced education program despite the fact that Chad can't read the word "accelerate". First she complains that the teacher wouldn't let Chad take enough bathroom breaks for the test, then after Chad fails a second time she says the teacher made the test harder out of spite. This pisses a stressed-out Frank off and triggers his Motive Rant.
  • Facecam: A camera is trained on Frank's face as he enters the school, and steadily grows more and more unnerved at the sight of all the students gaping at him. Then he comes into the office and discovers that the school newspaper has published its story about the embezzlement.
  • Fatal Flaw: Greed and pride, in Frank and Pam's cases. Pam became overconfident from getting away with it for so long and a family member gets her caught. Frank's greed and pride about his position is what pushes Rachel into deciding to run the story after she learns the truth.
  • Flipping the Bird: The last time Bob appears onscreen, he goes out to get the paper only to find fresh dog poop on his porch, and the owner of the dog giving him the finger as she and her dog walk away.
  • Hero Antagonist: Rachel Bhargava is the one investigating the budget on the skywalk and discovers the fraud as a result.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Real Life Frank did have a younger boyfriend in Vegas, but he had an open relationship and his partner was aware of the Vegas boyfriend - who also was not a former student. The real life Frank was actually quite offended by the assertion that he would cheat on his partner or date a former student.
  • Imagine Spot: The film ends with Frank, in jail, imagining himself at a district public meeting where he's being cheered and applauded by the crowd.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Rachel, who treats the student newspaper like an actual paper instead of a club designed to make her college application look good, which is what the editor calls it. She starts digging into district records and eventually uncovers massive fraud.
  • The Lost Lenore: Frank keeps a picture of a woman in a wedding dress on his desk. He claims that it's his wife, who died young; he cites his Lost Lenore when a divorced mother makes a pass at him. It's later revealed that not only is Frank gay, he's been in a relationship for 33 years, calling into question whether the wife even existed. (In Real Life it seems that Frank was in fact once married to a woman who did in fact die young, but Real Life Frank was not closeted.)
  • Motive Rant: Frank slips into his office after the scandal has broken, practically shaking with fear, only to find that annoying Education Mama already in the office, still trying to get her dumb kid into the gifted program. His control finally cracks and he lets loose on her.
    Frank: My problem? My problem is you. It’s the people who trot their poor children out like race horses at Belmont; who derive some perverse joy out of treating us like low-level service reps. Do you remember the teachers who sat with you, who held you by the hand, who taught you to add and subtract, or showed you Gatsby and Salinger, for the first time—Mockingbird even? Do their names escape you? Are their faces a blur?...You might forget, but we don’t. We never forget. Ever.
  • Plastic Bitch: Rare Male Example; one of the most selfish ways Frank spends the money he stole from the school is by getting plastic surgery.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When Pam gets fired, her cousin Debra gets a demotion and is reassigned to a windowless, closet-sized office in the basement.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Frank never really comes completely clean throughout the film, but the audience starts to understand how he and Pam stole $11.2 million dollars total between them after Frank mentions that they both (separately) came to the realization that there wasn't a real system of checks and balances in their office, so "no one noticed." It's basically the justification for how both of them decided to yoink that much cash from the district.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: The closest Frank ever comes to a confession is when he tells Bob that he once accidentally used a district credit card for lunch, and nobody cared, and then he used the card to get a drink, and nobody cared.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Frank, definitely. Not that getting the district to number four isn't impressive, but he seems to have developed a massive ego and narcissistic tendencies as a result of his success, even though no one outside of his office knows who he is until the scandal breaks.
  • Stealing from the Till: Frank, Pam, and Pam's family relations stole $11.2 million from the school district.
  • Stepford Smiler: Part of why Frank got away with everything for so long is that he has perfected his persona of the smiling, patient, devoted leader in his district.
  • Suspicious Spending: Pam Gluckin and her family, who have three homes and live a high-flying lifestyle. Pam says it's because her husband's car dealership is doing very well. The scandal starts to unravel when a hardware store clerk catches Pam's son using a school credit card to pay for construction materials which are delivered to his home. Frank for his part is smarter, with a fancy apartment in New York City and a home in Vegas, both far away from folks in Roslyn.
  • Tempting Fate: Rachel comes into Frank's office to write what she calls a "puff piece" about the overhead walkway. Frank, the educator, tells her that it doesn't have to be a puff piece and she can write a real story. So Rachel starts digging, and ruins Frank's life.
  • Vanity Plate: Pam Gluckin, who has used the money she's stolen from the district to buy a fancy house on upscale Dune Street, has a vanity plate that says "DUNENUTN".
  • Villain Protagonist: Frank Tassone, who masterminded a long-term conspiracy wherein $11.2 million was stolen from the school district.
  • Visible Boom Mic: In the first hotel scene between Frank and Kyle in Las Vegas, the boom mic is subtly visible in the top of the bedroom mirror.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Andrew Miller, the auditor, is first shown being deeply apologetic, saying that he took Pam at her word about a lot of things. Later he lets Frank browbeat him into not digging further. Still later he digs up the time when Frank bought first-class tickets to London for himself and his boyfriend, but again he backs down when Frank intimidates him. Near the end of the movie he's shown being led away in handcuffs, despite never doing anything criminal. In Real Life Miller altered records at Frank's behest in an effort to cover up the crime.