Accepted offers a unique and intriguing look at the world of Ivy League college admissions and the true cost of getting that first foothold into elite American society. In his first documentary feature, director Dan Chen grounds a broader look at the inequities in the American education system with unbelievable access to T.M. Landry and the deeply personal stories of four dynamic students looking to overcome countless obstacles to achieve their dreams. Four high school seniors in rural Louisiana attend T.M. Landry, an unconventional K – 12 school housed in a sparse warehouse made famous for sending its graduates to elite universities like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. The students aim to meet the intense expectations of Mike Landry, the imposing founder of the school who charts a relentless course towards their college dreams. When the New York Times publishes an expose on Landry’s controversial methods, the school buckles under the scrutiny. Each senior is left to contend with uncomfortable truths about their school and the college admissions system, and decide for themselves what they are willing to do to be accepted.
KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Accepted offers a unique and intriguing look at the world of selective college admissions in the US; it shows the cost of climbing the social ladder through education and the extent to which people will go to get to the ranks of the country’s intelligentsia.” See his full review and interview with the director below.
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16
Accepted offers a unique and intriguing look at the world of selective college admissions in the US; it shows the cost of climbing the social ladder through education and the extent to which people will go to get to the ranks of the country’s intelligentsia.
T.M. Landry College Preparatory is an unconventional K-12 school in a poor rural town in Louisiana famous for sending its students to elite universities like Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Stanford. Students aim to meet the intense expectations of Mike Landry, the imposing, relentless, rousing-speech-giving founder of the school who has a personal and professional stake in the process. When the New York Times publishes an exposé on T.M. Landry falsifying student transcripts and its controversial and, at-times, abusive methods, the school crumbles. Each senior has to figure out school and the college admissions system on their own from there, and they have to decide for themselves what they are willing to do to get into college.
In his first documentary, director Dan Chen beautifully captures the personal stories of four dynamic students looking to overcome the seemingly insuperable obstacles they face to achieve their dreams. One, for example, has a widowed mother and two disabled sisters, and she must care for them while balancing an 11-hour school day at T.M. Landry. The interviews of the four seniors guide the film, as does interwoven footage of Landry working with students, hyping them up, and continuing his work at home. The film is incredibly well-constructed — holes in T.M. Landry’s story are reflected in the plot (such as when it is revealed that Mike Landry told one of his students to call him when the filming team came to his house so he could project the image of a caring, fatherly figure). The footage is stable; lighting is modulated to reflect the mood of each scene (dark in times of despair, bright in times of hope), and the storytelling is seamless. Accepted keeps your attention throughout; there’s not a single dull moment. As a student going through the admissions process right now (albeit with a very different background and very different schools than those in the film), Accepted resonates with me on an emotional level at various points. It’s one of the best traditional documentaries I’ve watched this year.
Accepted is a film all about finding success with honesty and hard work. Where T.M. Landry fails, as a student says, is that they set out to solve the problem of a ridiculously selective university system, but became a part of the problem by falsifying records and losing integrity.
I give Accepted 5 stars out of 5 and recommend if for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. Accepted releases July 1, 2022 in theaters and on demand.
Keywords: Dan Chen, Jesse Einstein, Jason Y. Lee, Mark Monroe, Nathan matthew David, Daphne Qin Wu, Cathy Bui, James Dennis, Mike Landry, Adia Sabatier, Alicia Simon, Isaac Smith