Pop Quiz: Name the mastermind behind the 2019 bribery conspiracy that put actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin in jail. Answer: William Singer (aka Rick), the serial fabulist who guaranteed that he could take any child to an elite school for a price – or rather a “donation” – just to become the FBI. Informant and pass the media gaze on Loughlin, the former star of “Full House”.
The gripping documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” (streaming on Netflix) puts Singer in the spotlight, who is played in reenactments by Matthew Modine with dialogues straight from eavesdropping devices to understand like a former basketball player wearing flip-flops looks coach renamed himself academic glad-hander for 1 percent.
The director Chris Smith (“American Movie”, “Fyre”) specializes in ambitious monomaniacs. That’s what Singer describes, who slept three hours a night, often on an airplane or in a van. This also describes the families Singer served, alpha tycoons and doers who paced and paced in fear of swimming pools and believed their child’s life was ruined without a place at a top university. Your phone calls to Modines singer snap with the blunt strength of powerful people used to getting what they want. Cracks a father: “Is there a two-for-one special for twins?”
With neither Singer nor his clients consenting to a survey, Smith works with college counselors to explain the toxicity of an application process, which privileges privileges in both simple (private test tutors) and subtle ways (athletic approval for high-class sports like sailing or) sustaining water polo) and suspicious (say Charles Kushner’s $ 2.5 million donation to Harvard just before the adoption of his son Jared). Singer only used loopholes that still exist.
The less privileged students are shown in a montage of home videos sobbing to learn that they have been rejected by the school of their dreams. However, some deserve a spot for themselves despite the odds – and the pride on their faces cannot be bought at any price.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. Watch on Netflix.