Happy Valley

November 22nd, 2014


Happy Valley

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A documentary that observes the year after Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child sex abuse charges.

Release Year: 2014

Rating: 6.9/10 (52 voted)

Critic's Score: /100

Director: Amir Bar-Lev

The town of State College, the home of Penn State University, has long been known as Happy Valley, and its iconic figure for more than 40 years was Joe Paterno, the head coach of the school's storied football team. His program was lauded for not only its success on the field but also its students' achievements in the classroom. And Paterno took on mythic national stature as "Saint Joe." But then, in November 2011, everything came crashing down. Longtime Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse, setting off a firestorm of accusations about who failed to protect the children of Happy Valley. Was Sandusky's abuse an "open secret" in the town? Did Coach Paterno and the Penn State administration value their football program more than the lives of Sandusky's victims? Filmed over the course of the year after Sandusky's arrest as key players in the scandal agreed to share their stories, Happy Valley deconstructs the story we think we know to uncover a much ...

Taglines: The story behind the Penn-State scandal

Country: USA

Language: English

Release Date: 21 November 2014

Technical Specs


User Review


Rating: 1/10

Just to get this out of the way: first, I am a huge fan of Amir Bar-Lev, a very intelligent and respectable filmmaker who has made two of the most interesting documentary films of the last decade. Both 'My Kid' and 'Tillman' were accomplished, gripping, and worthy of all the praise they received. So it is with sincere regret that I have to rate this project as one of complete and utter boredom. So much so, in fact, that I actually fell asleep halfway through (no exaggeration -- it was that dull).

Unfortunately, Amir wades into the thick of the muck all too eagerly, with the attitude of a Hollywood wunderkind who is about to show all the inherent vice in the heart of America; what results is more of a exposition of Film Industry superiority reigning over ordinary, hard-scrapple Middle America. The subject matter, however, is secondary to the desperation in trying to get this movie into theaters by any means possible, including exploitation.

Each one of the interviews is conducted, one after another with wide-eyed, sincere, painfully naive gerbil-like players in the giant fishbowl of absurd media, where the central question, who knew what? is debated over and over again to the point where we really can't keep track of any of them and begin to wonder why it all matters.

Okay, so the basic premise is that there is a coach who is buggering youngsters and his boss is aware that something is going on (by an unsubstantiated third party) and so the whole city has come to a screeching halt in order to take sides on the issue. We've heard the same boring details hundreds of times already, as the media loves to continue to belabor this type of story anyway, and so there isn't much more hidden motive to uncover. Simply stated, the film doesn't show us anything beyond the obvious: the coach of a famous football team likes to play around with young men. Is this a revelation? Doesn't anyone seem to notice that football is a homoerotic sport to begin with? As far as the outcome of the case, we see thousands of Penn State students marching in defense of their beloved Joe Paterno, as if it's a giant demonstration in response to the bombing of a Middle Eastern elementary school -- which of course, none of them ever would care about. Sad to say, the only thing that seems to get these kids off their respective asses is the idea that they might not have a winning football season. That lets me believe that Bar-Lev might have had an actual point to making the film. But it is all watered-down with a mind-numbing dose of Americana: as the debate rages, just what does the admission mean for Penn State and the future of football in general? And who cares? It's really a sorry statement that a good filmmaker like Bar-Lev has to stoop so low as to pick up National Enquirer-like subjects to get his films financed. But I guess that's what's happened to documentaries -- since no one bothers to watch anything intelligent, we have to resort to exploitation to get a movie into a theater. Overall, it is a sad reflection on the state of documentaries as a whole.


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