A surprisingly lazy and poorly-timed documentary, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal looks to blow the lid on the recent controversy where wealthy parents were buying places into elite colleges for their children.
Not that this is anything new in the States. Through ‘the backdoor’, make a $20 million donation and a child is guaranteed a place. But Rick Singer offered ‘sidedoor’ entry – guaranteed places for significantly less money. Suddenly boys who could barely swim, with the aid of photoshop and $100,000, were recipients of waterpolo or sailing scholarships at the USC and Stanford. Singer, a former college placement advisor, understanding the system, had cast a wide net to incorporate sporting coaches at elite universities and atttracted high profile movie stars and Californian business families. The gaff was finally blown in 2019 after millions of dollars had changed hands.
Through use of the actual conversations secured through phone tapping and talking head interviews, Chris Smith (The Pool, Fyre) re-enacts the FBI investigation with Matthew Modine as Singer. But, with many of the key individuals still to face court, it’s predominantly only parents and the Stanford sailing coach who have received prison sentences (from one day to five months) for their part in the fraud. Singer awaits trial. It’s this that is the crux of the scandal and we are shortchanged. Who needs a documentary padded out with long shots of Modine walking along empty corridors, pacing his living room talking to a concerned parent or an alarm clock at 4am as Singer takes his daily run? Arriving too soon, the whole lacks any real analysis as the documentary provides only part of the story.