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Review: Admissions scandals are mere symptom of inequalities highlighted in ‘Unlikely’

College student Clarissa in a library in the documentary ‘Unlikely’
College student Clarissa in a library in the documentary “Unlikely.”
(Three Frame Media)

Recent scandals exposing celebrities who paid their children’s way into prestigious universities serve as a timely point of departure for Adam and Jaye Fenderson’s conventionally informative documentary “Unlikely.”

Narrated by Jaye Fenderson, a former admissions officer at Columbia University, the film dissects how higher education obstructs equal opportunity by obscenely favoring wealthy applicants with legacy links to the school or the means to ensure future donations. Private universities repudiate students from underprivileged backgrounds and actively deny them access to maintain their rankings and attract “desirable” candidates.

“We don’t go to high-end schools,” responds a resigned Juan, the child of Mexican immigrants from a low-income community in Los Angeles, when asked about college prospects for those like him who lack the resources (financial and otherwise) to succeed at Ivy League institutions.

There’s no riveting style, invigorating technique or atypical narrative devices on display; standard talking-head interviews and simple animated clips suffice as the well-researched piece follows a handful of people of color from across the U.S. who’ve failed to complete their degrees since the system refuses to factor in the additional socioeconomic hurdles on their plate. Hard data coupled with human-interest stories unmask the nationwide rigged operation.

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Akron, Ohio’s homegrown idol LeBron James and former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz briefly appear on camera to promote their initiatives and foundations that attempt to bridge the inequality gap. The codirectors, unconcerned with visual ornamentation, disseminate facts clearly in an undertaking that’s scholarly adept yet disappoints artistically. More digestible than a thick academic study, “Unlikely” was obviously designed as an issue-driven program without cinematic aspirations. That’s likely for the best.

'Unlikely'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Vintage Los Feliz 3


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