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True/False movie review: ‘Happy Valley’

Joe Paterno had a rough go of things in the last few months of his life.

“Happy Valley,” the popular and commonly used nickname of State College, Pa., with its large green expanses and beautiful suburban houses, is a place where nothing bad ever happens. Or at least where nothing bad had ever happened.

Paterno thought Jerry Sandusky was a terrific defensive coordinator. According to director Amir Bar-Lev, that seemed to be the extent of their famous relationship. In 2011, Sandusky was charged with 51 counts of sexual abuse.

His victims, many of whom participated in his charity, The Second Mile, didn’t have the extent of their stories relayed to the public until at least a decade after the abuse occurred. Paterno and other Penn State administrators have been accused of “covering up” the scandal, and the “Happy Valley” atmosphere has never been the same since.

Now, Penn State, Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky function as Lord Voldemort in the sense that the mere utterance of their names is largely frowned upon in society. Penn State was handed a fine of $60 million and a four-year postseason ban. Paterno’s statue was removed from outside Beaver Stadium, and his legacy as both a football coach and a human being was tarnished.

Paterno, who died just months after the verdict, was only a human being. But not in the eyes of Happy Valley. Sandusky’s adoptive son, Matt Sandusky, said Paterno and Sandusky were like God and Jesus Christ in the Valley. They meant everything to the community and the scandal resounded as a deep blow to State College’s heart.

Bar-Lev’s film doesn’t focus on Sandusky or even too heavily on Paterno. His story is that of a community destroyed by the actions of one man. The community’s picture of Paterno is decidedly mixed and murky, much like Penn State’s picture is to outsiders.

A mural situated in Happy Valley features many popular figures of the community, with Paterno appropriately front and center. A halo was once painted above Paterno’s head. He was a deity to these people — immune to controversy, mistakes or missteps.

The space above Paterno’s head is now empty. The community finally sees him as a human being. Happy Valley is still recovering, and the aftermath of the Sandusky case will never fully subside, no matter how much they want it to. It will always have an important place in history.

It’s time for them to build a new future. Here’s to a new era.

MOVE gives “Happy Valley” 4 out of 5 stars.

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