Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)

operation varsity blues the college admissions scandal poster 2021 review
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Some schadenfreude

The story documentary blend doesn't always work and the story's telling isn't compelling

Movie Info

Movie Name: Operation Varsity Blues:  The College Admission Scandal

Studio: Library Films Production

Genre(s): Documentary/Drama

Release Date(s): March 17, 2021

MPAA Rating: R

operation varsity blues the college admissions scandal rick singer matthew modine

Where does your kid want to go?

On March 12, 2019, federal prosecutors revealed charges against high profile and wealthy families who paid to have their children get into prestigious colleges of their choice.  The man behind the scandal was William Rick Singer (Matthew Modine) who for years made “donations”, bribes, and under-the-table deals to get students into the colleges and universities who might not have the level needed for the institutions.  The law has caught up to Singer and those around him are going to pay the price.

Directed by Chris Smith, Operation Varsity Blues:  The College Admissions Scandal is a documentary-drama hybrid.  The Netflix Original was released on March 17, 2021.

The college admission scandal was something that was not shocking and shocking.  It was not shocking in that people were doing it, but it was shocking in that they actually got caught after years and years of the practice.  The movie takes a unique approach to telling the story, but it doesn’t provide what you want or need…which is possibly impossible.

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Hi, Mr. Singer….we need to talk

The story is played as essentially a drama.  The movie employs recreations of actual telephone recordings from the wiretaps of Singer speaking to his clients.  Though these wiretaps and conversation, you learn the depths of the crimes.  Some clients really are really questioning the legitimacy of what Singer is doing.  In those cases, you wonder how stupid they could be.  In other cases, the parents are all in.  They know they are committing a crime and they know that their child or children don’t deserve spots on the sports teams or at the college themselves…it is maddening.

The recreations are a bit over the top at times.  Singer seems from all accounts to be an oddball character.  Matthew Modine plays him as such in the sequences where he plays Singer.  Singer is just off.  Even if they could have gotten Singer to cooperate with the documentary, I don’t know that he would have worked.  He seemed quiet and close-lipped despite being a nearly pathological liar.  Modine was probably the only solution, but it also creates this odd “play acting” feeling for the film.

operation varsity blues the college admissions scandal william rick singer news footage

Someone’s in trouble…too bad it doesn’t cost him much

The problem with everything is the outcome.  While there is quite a bit of schadenfreude surrounding the investigation and trial, it doesn’t feel like anyone really paid.  A few months in a country club type prison and public shame (in groups where “shame” is already pretty fluid) isn’t equivalent to the potential scholarships taken away from students who really need them.  While some of the students are spoiled and entitled, it also isn’t fair that their parents put them in the public target by pointing out that they weren’t good enough or smart enough to get into college…it is worse than if they had been turned down.  The fact that Singer is still free is an example of why the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  You watch bad people being bad for an hour and half.

Operation Varsity Blues:  The College Admissions Scandal is an imperfect documentary about an event with an imperfect outcome.  There are good ways to deal with this issue, and Operation Varsity Blues doesn’t seem to find the magic balance.  Despite Modine’s skill, the movie comes off as a poor recreation of events and the story.  While I love true crime and seeing people get what coming for them (or the occasional story where a person manages to evade their fate deftly), Operation Varsity Blues unfortunately doesn’t meet that match…I’m sure someone will give it another try.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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