Absurdity made wonderful

HBO's brilliant dark comedy Bad Education proves that there are some comedies worth streaming even when not quarantined

Hugh Jackman, centre, and other cast members in Bad Education.

During these uncertain and unprecedented times when we are fed up with mundane streaming movies as we're stuck at home, it's amazing that once in a while, we come across some solid movies on television. And the latest HBO original drama-comedy Bad Education, starring Oscar-nominated actor Hugh Jackman, is definitely one of those rare occasions.

Bad Education actually made its world premiere last September at the Toronto International Film Festival before coming to HBO recently. Not to be confused with Jack Whitehall's TV comedy series of the same name, this Bad Education is directed by Cory Finley, and is based on a true story from 2002 following Frank Tassone (Jackman), a beloved superintendent of the popular Roslyn School in Long Island, New York.

Things turn upside-down for him and his colleague, manager of finances Pam Gluckin, played by Allison Janney, and some other school staff when they become the prime suspects in the unfolding of the single-largest public-school embezzlement of taxpayer money in American history. The film also shows how the scandal was exposed by one of the school's junior reporters, Rachel Bhargava, played by Geraldine Viswanathan.

The film caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the quality of production looks and feels like a real movie to me, compared to many other streaming movies out there. The way it was shot with real film is just beautiful and appealing. Second is the director, Corey Finley, who directed Thoroughbreds, one of my favourite films from 2017. I think this is a major step up from that film, especially in terms of storytelling. And lastly is the fact that the script was provided by Mike Makowsky, who actually was a student at the high school this movie depicts, which definitely helps provide insight.

Though Bad Education has some slow pacing, especially in the first 30 minutes, that's understandable. The film has its own way of building up with Jackman's character Frank, who's just like the ultimate guy in the school system. On the outside Frank is a model citizen. He's the one you see walking down the school hallway dressed in a suave suit, smiling, and he knows just what to say to parents and how to handle the students. He's extremely well-regarded, having brought the school catchment into the No.4 spot in the entire country, and everybody trusts him.

I love the way the film unfolds the scandal bit by bit, when Rachel, the determined student reporter who discovers the story she's working on about some of the school's costly expenditures runs much deeper than she initially thought. This leads to the revelation of the embezzlement scheme, forcing Frank to try and wiggle his way out of it. It's so well-crafted and compelling.

All the cast are incredible, though Janney isn't in the film as much as I was hoping for. Her character kind of disappears right after the middle, which is quite unfortunate. But she is good with the screentime she's given.

But make no mistake, this is Hugh Jackman's show, and his performance is the one everyone's going to be talking about.

I don't remember how often Jackman has played a bad guy. I remember liking him as a suspected serial killer in Woody Allen's Scoop, from 2006. But here he's totally nailed it, especially in scenes where the pressure starts piling on and all eyes are on him, and his professional and charming demeanour begins to crack and his demon side reveals itself.

Bad Education is in the same spirit as films like Spotlight or last year's Bombshell, but deals with a case of much smaller scale. Still, it balances well between black comedy and suspense within the same space. The comic side is actually genuine -- they can be funny without trying too hard. And that's probably because the true story behind it is almost unbelievably ridiculous.

  • Bad Education
  • Starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan
  • Directed by Cory Finley
  • Now streaming on HBO GO