Missing The Mark

An Analysis of Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues The College Admissions Scandal


Victoria Filippi, Editor in Chief

Greed, notoriety, and deprivation are the three words that encompass the heart of the infamous investigation known as Varsity Blues.

Netflix’s recent release of Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal amassed interest for its portrayal of crucial members of the 2019 college admissions scandal.

In general, the documentary reflected the most influential contributor of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer. He used his back door and side door method to assist students in their college applications. The assistance Singer provided included fabricating sports profiles, test scores, and donations.

The film plastered Singer as the mastermind of the scandal and addressed the calculative operations of the parents. The narrative utilizes interviews with participants of the scandal, professionals within the admissions community, Singer’s acquaintances, and reenactments.

While watching the film, the most captivating component was the reenactments. The casting for the documentary felt precise, especially for Singer’s position, played by Matthew Modine. His acting feels true to Singer’s character: driven and accurate.

Comparatively, the reenactments of the parents feel intimate to the parent’s desires and their concerns. While some of the parents show their genuine fear, others view the process as a transaction. The polarization between these portrayals depicts how each participant’s actions varied on a spectrum.

The reenactments felt almost misplaced with the rest of the documentary, however. While the reenactments were vital in progressing the film, their implementation battled the overarching message. The focus on Singer’s testimony highlights a stark flaw within the documentary, acknowledging who is responsible.

The most balanced article of the documentary, the testimony of one participant, furthered the story but managed to reveal heinous details. John Vandemoer was a former sailing coach for Standford until the scandal broke to the public. His interview elaborated on his position in the scandal and his employer’s involvement with the scheme.

Vandemoer provides something that the reenactments cannot; it issues a face to a victim. Students rejected from top colleges that filled the criteria to be accepted but were not, are victims, yet there are no faces for that. The former sailing coach elaborates how the experience affected his livelihood, although he did not profit from the scandal in any manner.

Unlike the reenactments, the interviews on the acquaintances of Singer highlight another spectrum of the scandal. Those who felt that Singer was a suspicious character provide context for his behaviors. Others who were on personal terms with Singer depict his drive to “help” the students and capitalize off the application process.

Both interviews elaborate on Singer’s character but fail to convey all the participants who are responsible. This theme is present throughout the film, and the only other attempt to balance this is from the remaining interviews.

The dependence on the remaining interviews makes their comments feel hinged, jointed to its mission. The commentary that they make is relevant to the story but competes with the reenactment. The documentary does disclose that it is an analysis of Singer’s methods but fails to attribute how wealth is pertinent is to this situation.

The film juggles the following characteristics poorly during the portion that elaborates how Singer was caught. The event that triggered his scheme to unravel appears briefly then escalates to his capture without a complete depiction of the circumstances.

The following interrupts the flow negatively and is upsetting when compared to how the documentary uses its time at the conclusion.

The film ends with a brief message about the application process that almost deems the incident as acceptable. One comment elaborates that no matter what school a student attends, they will obtain the same results. Although made with good intentions, the statement unintentionally excuses the matter at hand.

Likewise, while students appear to have more concern about the application season more than ever, the ending morals seem to skew the film’s motives. The purpose for critiquing the reenactments and interviews is justified because the ending opens this moral discussion about the application season in general.

Consequently, because the scope diverges to include moral reflection, the documentary should have included the consequences of wealth and poverty. When students with a lack of resources attempt to navigate the application system, they face unfair obstacles because of others’ wealth. To disregard this entirely is unfair when rationalized with the idea that no matter where a child goes, they will succeed.

The ending piece attempts to give an unjustified situation light and counteract the criminal nature of the film. In short, most of it feels corny to include, or rather unaligned with the rest of the documentary.

That is not to say the documentary does not have its own merits; it has beautiful cinematography and more than decent acting. The film is worth watching if one wants to familiarize themselves with Singer and his plot. The film may seem untimely as it progresses, with some details glossed over, but it does not interfere with the viewing experience extremely.

One message is sure throughout the film despite its imperfections. The application system is flawed, and without protection, the opportunities some may have become corrupted.

Overall Rating: 6/10