Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)

6 Jun

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There is a gripping Netflix Original film called “Operation Varsity Blues,” and it’s one of my favorite films of 2021 so far.

Directed by Chris Smith (who also gave us entertaining documentaries such as “American Movie” and “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”), “Operation Varsity Blues” is a docudrama that creatively digs into the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. It uses transcripts from real wiretap conversations and incorporates them into reenactments from actors playing the parts of the people involved. Matthew Modine takes center-stage as Rick Singer, who masterminded the whole scheme of dozens of parents paying him off to bribe elite schools into letting their under-qualified kids in. (This included high-profile parents such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.)

I always liked Modine in other works such as “Full Metal Jacket,” but here he turns in what is probably his best performance. How good is he? We do see the real Rick Singer interviewed about an hour into the film, and it’s practically uncanny how close he is to the real thing.

Other actors portray the wealthy parents who didn’t ask many questions when Singer informed them that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to send their kids to Stanford or USC or what have you.

“Operation Varsity Blues” begins with your average high-school senior’s dream come true, as we see recordings of numerous kids each celebrating getting accepted into the school of their choice. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when a half-hour later, after we’ve been sucked into Singer’s con game, we get footage of other students, upset and sobbing that they didn’t get into their choice schools. (One of them even says they feel worthless.) It’s so easy to feel empathy for these young people because it’s more than likely four out of five of us have been there before.

And then to find out that ultra-rich parents paid someone to get their children into whatever premium university they wanted? That has to hurt.

“Operation Varsity Blues” did a very good job sucking me in as it detailed the scandal from the seemingly harmless beginning to its numerous clients to the moment it all came crashing down, with one arrest after another.

With more and more evidence piling up to prove why college isn’t especially necessary for most people in today’s society, I think this intriguing film came at just the right time. “Operation Varsity Blues” is now available on Netflix and I highly recommend it.

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