We’re all familiar with the celebrity-driven headlines: “Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman Busted for Paying Beaucoup Bucks to get their Kids into Prestige Colleges!” But they weren’t alone. Dozens of rich parents whose names you’ve never heard of were doing the same. All aided by a sleazebag named Rick Singer who built a lucrative career as an expert manipulator of a college admissions system all too eager to make exceptions and turn a blind eye – if the price was right. There’s plenty of blame and shame to go around.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is an odd hybrid of a documentary. It “stars” Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket) as Singer, and features a mix of real interviews and narrative recreations based on FBI wiretap transcripts of conversations between Singer and his wealthy clients. It’s a lot of hemming and hawing and justifying… and it’s really quite infuriating. The real losers in all of this are the kids. The ones who didn’t get into the schools of their dreams, and those who did – through what Singer called a “side door.” All perfectly legit, he assures his co-conspirators. Except it wasn’t. So when the law finally caught up with Singer, he threw open the floodgates so others could take the fall with him. Cause that’s just the kind of guy he is.
The documentary comes from the director of Fyre and the executive producer of Tiger King, i.e. veterans of exploiting and exploring the “you can’t make this stuff up” drama around real people and real events.
This is not a film about celebrities like Loughlin (and hubby Mossimo) and Huffman and their guilty pleas. They are barely mentioned. It’s mostly about Singer and his Con Man tactics and the institutional inequities that allowed him to flourish for decades, ensnaring the likes of former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer who wins sympathy points for appearing as himself, and showing some contrition. It’s hard to know if a documentary such as this can bring about real change and get a wider audience to rethink standardized testing, the high cost of higher education, and the whole concept of “prestige” universities.
Operation Varsity Blues is available now on Netflix.