The culture surrounding college sports has become so polluted with commercial concerns – from bowl games and TV revenue to paraphernalia, video-game money and beyond – that the recent events at Florida State (involving player lawlessness) only seem to underscore the issues. They also make it more apparent that college football is just minor-league NFL, including its willingness to ignore character issues.
So Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary, “Happy Valley,” about the Penn State sex scandal that unfolded from mid-2011 to 2012, may surprise people. While Bar-Lev makes no apologies for Penn State and its handling of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, neither does he pile on in vilifying late coach Joe Paterno and Penn State as a whole.
If anything, that’s one of Bar-Lev’s most provocative points: How much punishment is enough? At what point does the blame stop and life go on?
Obviously, for Sandusky’s victims, the assaults will resonate and haunt forever – consider Sandusky’s adopted son, Matt, who talks to the camera about why he defended Sandusky, despite being one of Sandusky’s prey. But Bar-Lev is after something bigger here.
Even as he recaps the events that led to Sandusky’s conviction and the firing of Paterno, Penn State’s president and athletic director, Bar-Lev looks at the media furor that surrounded the events. In doing so, he raises questions about the face-saving actions of the university and the NCAA, as well as the national urge to purge, punish and forget.
This review continues on my website.