In the eyes of his school district, Frank Tassone is an almost perfect school superintendent. He makes an effort to meet and encourage every single student under his purview, his door is always open to any parent with any problem and—perhaps most importantly—he has almost singlehandedly reshaped the district into one of the top 10 school systems in the nation.
Roslyn High is number four on that esteemed national list. And Frank is aiming for number one. That’s a goal the slickly coiffed and perfectly dressed superintendent will confidently proclaim to any passing parent or real estate agent. After all, if the school district shines brightly, everybody wants to live in it, housing prices go through the roof, and all is well.
Things have been going so well for Frank over the last 10 years of his tenure, that it’s almost inconceivable that anything could go wrong.
But that’s not to say that there is nothing wrong, in the Tassone kingdom. Not by a long shot.
The fact is, Frank and assistant superintendent Pam Glukin have been cooking the school district’s financial books for years. They’ve siphoned off lots of taxpayer dollars, and they’ve both been living double lives on that bounty. Incredible homes, expensive cars, vacations around the world, secret affairs—they’ve all been bought and paid for on the school district’s dime.
But to Frank, any potential tipping or wobbling of that illicit cream saucer is simply inconceivable. He’s so arrogantly confident in his position and situation that he even encourages a student to dig more deeply for an article to be reported in the school paper.
She was afraid that the school only wanted a puff piece on an upcoming building project costing millions of dollars. “It’s only a puff piece if you let it be a puff piece,” the smiling, perfect superintendent declares to that journalistically minded young student. And wouldn’t you know it, she takes those words to heart. She digs deeper … and finds the biggest financial scandal in the history of public education.
You might call it, almost perfect.
You could say that this film wants to have things both ways. It encourages young writers to do their best and to dig for great stories, for instance. But at the same time, Rachel, the student writer here is placed in something of a spoiler role through most of the film.
You could also suggest that the Frank Tassone story is a cautionary tale of greed and hubris. But Frank is painted as such a doggone likeable guy that it’s hard to see him as the deeply flawed character we know he is.
Frank has a “Snow Day Magic Wand” hanging in his school office.
Early on, Frank readily paints himself as a devoted widower. A single mom moves in to kiss him at one point, but he backs off suggesting that the memory of his deceased wife is still too fresh.
We soon learn, however, that he’s using that cover as a way to hide a long-running gay relationship as well as Frank’s tendency to have gay affairs while off on school district business. We see Frank kiss and embrace two different men in several different scenes, as well as using his charming ways to seduce a former male student. (It’s implied they have a sexual encounter.)
When Pam Glukin gets caught—after tens of thousands of dollars are put on a school district credit card—she breaks things and rages in a fury at her adult son. Frank goes in for a face lift and we see a scalpel cut into the flesh at his temple.
[Spoiler Warning] Frank gets arrested by police, forced down on a driveway and cuffed.
Ten f-words and a half-dozen s-words are joined by a handful of uses each of “h—,” “a–” and “b–ch.” Jesus’ name is misused twice and “god” is combined with “d–n” once. The words “pr-ck” and “schmuck” are spit out as well. We see a crude hand gesture brandished in anger.
Pam smokes regularly and throws a pool party featuring beer and barbeque in her back yard. Frank and a gay lover smoke and drink in a gay bar and in his hotel room. We see a bar full of drinking and dancing male patrons.
To maintain their ongoing scam, Frank and Pam pull the school system’s financial auditor into their coverup. Lies, told by Frank and Pam and some on the school board, are used repeatedly to prop up the appearance of propriety on all fronts and hide the growing scandal from the world.
A school board member gambles in Las Vegas. A woman has her dog intentionally defecate on someone’s front porch. We’re told by the movie’s end that over $11 million was stolen over the course of 12 years in this film based on a true story.
“A town is only as good as its school system,” Roslyn High School superintendent Frank Tassone states at the beginning of Bad Education. And the film illustrates how that statement is absolutely true. When a school district is soaring with national prominence, its kids are well-primed, its parents are happy, home prices boom and the whole community seems to thrive. But throw in some covered-up corruption and whoops, all those goodies head south in a hurry.
This is a well-drawn movie version of a true story that unfolded in the early 2000s in a Long Island school district—a pic that peels back the pungent onion layers of a tale filled with corruption and hubris. That doesn’t, however, make it an enjoyable diversion.
Hugh Jackman works hard to fill his role with wit and slicked-back charm. But this true story of corrpution tips its soiled hand early on: We know where it’s going, and we know it’s going to get ugly. After a compelling intro, then, it’s simply a case of holding on through the ever-worsening molder of foul arrogance, unscrupulous greed and illicit gay love affairs.
A town like Roslyn may be only as good as it’s school system, but a movie is only as good as it’s subject matter. And both have a rotten core in this case.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.