The college admissions scandal made headlines and appalled the public when the case emerged back in 2019. Over fifty are believed to have bribed prestigious universities to get their children accepted into them. William Rick Singer (depicted in the documentary by Matthew Modine) organised the scheme, which was active from 2011 to 2018. His methods included fraudulently inflating exam test scores and bribing college officials and coaches.
The conversations in ‘Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal’, we’re told, are real, recreations of wiretaps by the US government. The recreated conversations revolve mostly around Modine’s depiction of Singer. The actor is great in the role, effectively representing Singer’s boastful, conceited attitude. He can be so convincing and reassuring in his tone too, a master puppeteer pulling the strings attached to the pockets of these privileged parents.
The documentary effectively depicts how appalled and outraged the public were, stirring up these feelings again in its viewers. What happened was so frustrating and unfair, a clear case of the rich, upper class manipulating the system to suit their means, buying their way out of real work and taking opportunities away from others (“They’d every advantage, and yet, they still cheated).
The film highlights other ways in which American college admissions are geared towards white, wealthy people, for example, in their focus on niche sports, and acceptance of “donations” from the parents. The business side of US universities is effectively demonstrated. We hear too from the students that didn't get in, and there's an exploration of the stresses of getting into college, particularly the top ones. The entire system, including perceptions of exclusivity, come under scrutiny and criticism.
We get different perspectives, for example, from FBI members who explored the case, and a very sympathetic Stanford coach who just got caught up in it all. It’s fascinating hearing about Singer from the point of view of such people as former students who he coached, or his ex-girlfriend. One of them notes: “He was like a therapist or a life coach, but he was a criminal.”
It’s outrageous hearing the details of the scheme, and shocking how long it took for red flags, such as a 5 ft 5 basketball player, to get noticed. The case of Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade is deliciously scandalous too.
A lot is packed into the 100 minute running length, and it’s all very well executed. ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ is compelling, tight, and a thoroughly interesting and engaging watch. Having been made by the same team who produced the equally excellent ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,’ one is eager to see what case study they’ll take on next.
Available on Netflix from Wednesday 17th March.