Happy Valley (DVD Review)16 Apr, 2015 By: John Latchem
Box Office $0.02 million
Director Amir Bar-Lev’s engrossing documentary Happy Valley takes a nuanced look at the scandal surrounding former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Concurrent with Sandusky’s conviction for child molestation, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired and the NCAA levied heavy sanctions against the university, including vacating 111 football victories dating back to 1998, when Paterno supposedly first learned Sandusky was being investigated for abuse.
The case set off a firestorm of controversy about the degree to which university officials looked the other way rather than taking actions that could have stopped Sandusky from victimizing more young boys.
Happy Valley demonstrates there are no easy answers, as it gives voice to rational perspectives from many sides of the issue, from Paterno’s family, to Sandusky’s adopted son, to journalists and local officials.
Those who agree with the NCAA sanctions argue the school was caught up in an obsession with football that valued Sandusky’s role in the program ahead of stopping any of his illicit activities.
Paterno’s supporters, on the other hand, point to the school’s phenomenal graduation rate among the football program cuts into the theory the school was all about winning at all costs. Instead, they say Paterno followed the rules and that Penn State was simply being punished by the NCAA for being too successful. Paterno’s supporters labeled the NCAA as hypocrites for its insane profits off the type of football culture it’s denouncing in the Penn State case.
Certainly, the removal of Paterno’s wins did little to help Sandusky’s victims and seemed more like an attempt to whitewash history in order to gloss over any association with the events in question (the victories were restored earlier this year after a negotiated settlement between Penn State and the NCAA, once again making Paterno the winningest coach in college football).
The documentary isn’t seeking any definitive answers, but leaves the facts on the table for viewers to decide for themselves. In a broader sense, the film explores the ways hero worship can overcome one’s sense of reality.
The shifting perspectives are perhaps best symbolized by a local mural depicting major figures from Penn State history, whose artist quickly paints over Sandusky’s image and waffles over painting a halo over Paterno after his death in 2012. In another enlightening passage, an anti-Paterno protestor interrupts those attempting to take a photo at Paterno’s statue, which eventually was removed.
The DVD also includes a 21-minute radio interview with the director about his goals for the film.