In Operation Varsity Blues, Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer, the real-life “college admissions consultant” who was one of the many people involved in the 2019 College Admissions scandal.
Singer was the former basketball coach who helped the rich and famous get their children into the right Ivy League schools. As the film shows (and as you probably already know), he did this by faking test scores, faking athletic activities, and often arranging for money to exchange hands. The film not only features Modine and others actors acting out the actual conversations that Singer was taped as having with his wealthy clients, it also features interviews with a few of Singer’s acquaintances and with the various journalists who covered the scandal. It’s a documentary with dramatic recreations.
And that’s fine. Modine does a good enough job portraying Rick Singer, playing him as essentially being a sleazy salesman who knew exactly what to say to the parents who were desperate to get their child into a prestigious university. (The film reveals that Singer would often lie to his clients, brainwashing them into believing that there was no way their children would be able to get into USC or Harvard without his help.) Unfortunately, with his gray hair and, his nervous smile, Matthew Modine as Rick Singer bares an odd but definite resemblance to the great Eric Roberts and, as I watched Operation Varsity Blues, I found myself thinking about how great it would be to see a film in which Eric Roberts did play Rick Singer. (I mean, seriously, Singer just seems like a perfect Eric Roberts role.) That may sound like a petty complaint but it does get at a bigger issue. Operation Varsity Blues is 100 minutes long but, despite its slightly different narrative format, it still doesn’t tell us anything that we couldn’t have learned from all of the other documentaries and dramatic adaptations based on the college admissions scandal. Even with the reenactments and the chance to hear Singer’s own words, Operation Varsity Blues still doesn’t tell us anything new about the scandal or why it happened. If nothing else, Eric Roberts and his neurotic screen presence would have put a new spin on a now-familiar story,
To be honest, the hybrid, docudrama format actually works against the film. On the one hand, you’ve got the real people telling their story in talking head interviews. But every time you start to get into their stories, the film cuts away to a reenactment and the film goes from being a documentary to being a low-budget Matthew Modine film. The film would have worked better if it had chosen to be either a documentary or a drama. By trying to be both, the end result is a movie that often seems disjointed and leaves you still feeling as if you haven’t actually gotten the entire story.
Finally, Lori Loughlin and her husband are featured in the documentary, though only in news footage. At one point, it’s revealed that after their daughter was accepted to USC, her high school guidance counselor called the college to tell them that Olivia Jade was never on her school’s rowing team, regardless of what her application said. Apparently, Lori and her husband got very angry about the counselor doing this and you know what? They had every right to be pissed off. Why is a guidance counselor trying to keep one of his students from getting into a good college? I mean, how was it really any of his business to begin with? That’s something that I would have liked to have seen explored in a bit more detail. Instead, the film just hurries along to another reenactment of Rick Singer explaining how to cheat on the ACT. (I’m still amazed that people spent that much money to do something as easy as cheat on a standardized test. I mean, it’s not that difficult.)
Unfortunately, the entire film is like that. It raises some interesting points but it ultimately leaves you frustrated by its refusal to do anything more than scratch the surface.