Review by Sean Boelman
Dan Chen’s Accepted tells a story that may seem obscure and not all that compelling on paper, but really makes for some unexpectedly compelling nonfiction cinema. Sleek in execution and full of crazy twists that viewers won’t see coming, this is the type of documentary that has the potential to take the internet by storm.
The film tells the story of the students and educators at the TM Landry Prep School, which had a 100% acceptance rate of its students getting into elite colleges of their choice before they became embroiled in a scandal. But there is even more to this story that viewers would know from the news, and this is where Chen’s movie succeeds.
For much of the first half of the film, this is being presented as if it is a puff piece on a school that is using revolutionary new educational methods to great success, but when things start to get a bit weirder, the pacing picks up in an absolutely crazy way, bringing us to a conclusion that will absolutely shock viewers.
The movie does a really good job of exploring some of the greater ethical implications of this story. Although the teaching methods used at TM Landry are certainly problematic, people in the film question whether they are worth the consequences in the name of giving disadvantaged children a chance in a rigged system.
Chen’s approach to presenting the founders of TM Landry is definitely very interesting. Although the movie doesn’t glorify him, it also avoids outright vilifying him. It shows the ways in which he truly cares about the futures of his students but also the hypocritical tendencies they have that manifest in toxic ways.
The portions of the film which follow the former students of TM Landry are also very effective. It is obviously heartbreaking to see someone pursuing a dream in an unflinching way only to have it ripped away from them due to circumstances outside of their control. And it feels like Chen was able to get surprisingly unfiltered access to these individuals.
For the first half of the movie, this is a fly-on-the-wall documentary following the founder of TM Landry, but in the second half, it starts to resemble more of an exposé with interviews and more secretive footage. There are also some portions in this back half that deconstruct what we saw in the first part, and it would have been cool to see it go deeper into this meta angle.
There are some excellent things going on in Accepted that make it an unexpectedly compelling documentary. It will get viewers invested in the story early and keep them hooked with how insane it gets as it progresses.
Accepted is currently seeking distribution.