MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Our current kerfuffle with COVID-19 is really messing things up. Not only has it made it impossible to go to the movie theaters, but it has also limited the films that I can review. (And, of course, how we “do church”). But my little list of grievances pale in comparison to what high school seniors have had to face this spring: uncertainty about graduation as well as how they will be attending college – if at all – this fall.
After all, when you finally near the finish line of high school, it becomes apparent that so much of what you have been achieving has been in preparation for what comes next.
Bad Education is set in the early 2000’s at Roslyn High School, located in a prestigious part of Long Island where the wealthy and privileged send their children. The objective is to equip them for acceptance into Ivy League colleges. Under the leadership of superintendent Frank Tassone (Jackman) the system is thriving. Roslyn is rated #4 in the State and property values are rising as families of means move into the neighborhood where public education of the highest quality can be acquired.
But Frank and an administrator colleague Pam (Janney) have been utilizing school funds for personal gain. They are aided and abetted by a less than transparent accounting system that relegates paperwork to boxes in a storage room. After all, if everything is going great, who’s going to notice?
How about a reporter for the school newspaper? Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan) goes to interview Frank for a “puff piece” about an upcoming construction project and he encourages her to dig deeper to write an article of real substance. Frank compartmentalizes his life so effectively that he fails to see how this investigative reporting could possibly uncover anything serious. Pam tries to discourage Rachel in her efforts, but to no avail. The light is about to shine in the darkness.
This film is based on actual events (and the screenwriter was a student at Roslyn at the time of the scandal) but its merit lies in truthfulness that isn’t dependent on facts. Every institutional system can be similarly indicted of the sins noted in Bad Education. In the local church, if the giving is strong and the congregation is happy, who is going to pay attention to the finances? (Other than the annual audit, that is?) And leadership that is effective and beloved is sometimes closest to going astray. Bad Education is helped immensely by a strong performance from Hugh Jackman as well as a cast that is uniformly excellent and a script that is witty and nimble. This is one of the better films of 2020.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A true crime story that also shines a light on the corruptibility of systems in an entertaining way.
Three pitchforks: Deception; fraud; duplicity; occasional swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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