MINOT, N.D. -- There is a moment in "Bad Education" (currently streaming on HBO) where a precocious student reporter for the school paper, tasked with writing a fluff piece, instead decides to pursue a scandal involving her school's administrators.
The student, suspecting something amiss in the bidding process for a construction project at her school, wants to see the records.
The assistant superintendent, played by Allison Janney, gives her a long-winded and bullying speech intended to back her off.
Who does this student think she is, questioning adults about adult business?
At the end of the lecture, the student after the documents -- Geraldine Viswanathan, playing real-life Rebekah Rombom -- asks, "but they're still public documents, right?"
I wanted to stand and cheer in my living room, and not just because I'm a vigorous practitioner of open records laws.
'Bad Education' is an adaptation of a true story about larcenous school officials in New York who embezzled about $11 million -- reportedly the largest school embezzlement case in American history -- spending the proceeds on luxury cars and lavish vacations and plastic surgery.
The story makes you think.
These officials stole, yes, but they were also more than competent. At the time, their high school was a national leader for things like test scores and college placement. That's why local taxpayers were so generous in funding their school district. The schools were performing well, and nobody denies that it was due to the work of the thieving administrators.
Which leaves one wondering, beyond a certain point, how much does money matter when it comes to improving outcomes in education? These school officials were spending their district's budget increases on themselves, not the schools, yet the students thrived anyway.
Perhaps school performance is not as tied to school funding as some believe.
We're also left with questions about the complexities of human nature.
Superintendent Frank Tassone and his co-conspirators educated students, exceedingly well, even as he stole from them.
Which brings me back to that adamant student reporter.
The person who set her on that path, encouraging her to turn her school paper fluff piece into something more substantial?
It was Tassone. At least according to the story the movie tells us. He did his job as an educator so well it revealed his fraud.
In this era, when superheroes dominate the cultural landscape, nuance has taken a back seat. The characters we're presented with are usually all good or all bad. Or seemingly all good until revealed to be all bad. Or maybe all bad until we're allowed to see that they're actually all good.
Rarely are we shown characters, like Tassone (played excellently by Hugh Jackman), who are both good and bad at the same time.
"Bad Education" is a compelling movie because it delivers a small dose of nuance to a nation desperate for it.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.