“Operation Varsity Blues” review: Netflix’s hybrid documentary on college admissions scandal barely passes the “watch” test

Of course, Lifetime has already weighed in with its own quick flick on the subject, but it has only scratched the surface. Here, the filmmakers behind the documentary “Fyre,” Chris Smith and Jon Karmen, call on Matthew Modine to portray the mastermind of the operation, Rick Singer, dramatically re-enacting his wiretapped conversations with the accomplices and relatives involved.

It’s a showy way to illustrate what happened, but as is often the case with such efforts, too cute for its own good, blurring the lines between scripted drama and reality. Make a movie or make a documentary, but ultimately make up your mind and choose a path.

The feature film gives a better insight into how the program works and the extent to which these wealthy parents have fulfilled their own hopes and dreams through their children. “Parents apply to college, and the child is the vehicle through which they apply to college,” says Perry Kalmus, college admissions counselor.

Indeed, perhaps the most effective video incorporated into the documentary features children exulting or deflated when they receive notifications from universities – one says they feel “broken” by a rejection – highlighting both the pressure to which they face and the young people deprived of these triumphant moments because of the admissions. extended to peers whose parents used Singer’s “side door” to purchase their entry.

While the presentation focuses on Singer and parents – including actor Lori Loughlin, as well as Felicity Huffman among the most prominent celebrities – much of the material blames the entire system. The issues raised range from a focus on universities bringing in huge sums of money – including donations to ‘under the radar’ sports – to cultivating college rankings that intensify competition for entry into schools. elite.
Interviews also include some of those swept up in the case, such as former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, who pleaded guilty to arranging bribes for inexperienced students who were named as sailing recruits. Unlike several other coaches and administrators involved, Vandemoer did not keep the money himself and he accuses his bosses of showing general indifference to his program, except when he wrote big checks.

Akil Bello, an expert in test preparation, finally gets to the heart of the matter – and perhaps why so many people have had such a visceral reaction to this story – by asking, “Why did these parents choose to cheat when their children already had so much? “

That’s a good question, as is why “Operation Varsity Blues” felt compelled to dramatize a documentary that didn’t need this embellishment.

“Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” premieres March 17 on Netflix.

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