The second feature from Thoroughbreds director, Cory Finley and while that film didn’t quite get the love it deserved, with a cast that includes Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, this one’s set to get a lot more attention. Bad Education tells of a real-life scandal of the largest public school embezzlement in history. A school may not be the place you think of when it comes to embezzling but they really were out to get their money’s worth. The school’s had some notable alumni including Jurassic Park writer Michael Crichton and the film’s own writer Mike Makowsky, who even attended the school at the time of the scandal, giving him first hand knowledge of what happened.
It’s fairly likely most British film fans, or possibly even a lot of the Americans given that it happened over a decade ago, won’t be familiar with this particular scandal and that’s an asset, going in blind makes it all the more enjoyable so it’s recommended to not look much further than the synopsis. It’s understandably hard to imagine that a money scandal taking place in a high school in the late 90’s to early 00’s, with the drab fashion and upscale public education is particularly fascinating but it will pleasantly surprise you. Cory Finley will prove that the enthralling quality to his first film wasn’t a fluke.
The most delightful part of that surprise is how strong the comedy runs through this film, even straight comedies have trouble getting laugh out loud reactions but this film has moments like that running all through it. It’s genuinely funny and witty, there is no real lull in its tight 103-minute run time, thankfully the filmmakers resisted the common urge to go over the 2 hour mark. The writing style manages to keep the film’s feet firmly on the ground and ensures the characters feel like everyday people, it’s surprising for it to remain ordinary enough without becoming uninteresting or monotonous, but it’s also surprising that such strong work comes from a writer who recently worked on the far less than stellar Take Me (the director and star of which, appears in Bad Education).
As you’d expect, the strongest part of the film is the cast, Hugh Jackman has gone through a huge variety of roles and never disappoints, a man that was still good even in the hot mess that was Pan and this is no exception. There’s an extra layer of vulnerability with this role, Frank Tassone is a very confident man but beneath that lies a lot of self-image and acceptance issues that are a huge part of this story and which Jackman handles with effortless grace. Then you have the incomparable Allison Janney, she’s yet again fantastic in this role and provides a lot of the laughs, it would have been better to see more of her but unfortunately her arc leaves her out of the action for lengthy portions. You wouldn’t think that a great scene could come out of these two actors simply eating a sandwich but that’s how charismatic they are on screen together.
A stand out for the film is Geraldine Viswanathan, she isn’t a newcomer given that she’s starred in Blockers and comedy series Miracle Workers but she’s a refreshing talent to watch, she does a fantastic job of bringing the determination of her character to the screen with a wonderful comedic edge. The cast is a really great ensemble, even Ray Romano has a few choice moments, it’s taken a long time but he’s gradually pulling himself into this decade and becoming relevant again, especially with an upcoming appearance in the hotly anticipated The Irishman.
Real-life crime stories are having a real moment in media, although they’ve rarely ever had a lull, audiences love to watch people throw their morals and ethics into the wind, and without violence or murder, this film has managed to make itself one of the more interesting crime stories to be adapted to the big screen. Bad Education is captivating, funny and one of the most absorbing performances from Hugh Jackman in recent years. It’s disappointingly not often a film genuinely makes you laugh out loud but this is one of the gems that will, it’s just indie enough that it might not get the audience it deserves but give it a chance and it will surprise you.