Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben, Lily Tomlin
Dave Weasel (Writer), Jean Hanff Korelitz (Novel), Karen Croner (Screenplay)
Admission is close to a wonderful film.
Admission is not a wonderful film, however, and most of that blame goes to director Paul Weitz and a maddeningly inconsistent tone that never establishes exactly what we're supposed to expect from a film that features truly funny performers who are also capable of projecting genuine human emotions and intelligent dialogue.
How could this film go wrong?
It doesn't exactly go wrong, but Admission never quite feels right.
Admission centers around a 16-year veteran admissions officer named Portia (Tina Fey), whose safely run-of-the-mill life is thrown into major upheaval when she's brought face-to-face with Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), an 18-year-old with horrid grades, stellar SAT's and top notch AP exams. Oh, and he may be the son she gave up for adoption when she was 18.
In the process of working her way through his rather unorthodox candidacy, Portia becomes rather smitten with his mentor and advocate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd). In the meantime, she's also dealing with the after effects of a recent break-up while also vying for the soon to be vacant Dean of Admissions position once the current dean (Wallace Shawn) retires.
Much like I felt after watching last year's Liberal Arts, there's a really good film dwelling somewhere within the cinematic caverns of Admissions. Unfortunately, it's never allowed to surface in favor of a film that bounces between slightly edgy and modestly entertaining for the better part of its nearly two hour running time.
Tina Fey is a gifted actress and comic, a fact that she's proven time and time again. It makes sense that she signed on for this film, because this feels like a film that wants to simultaneously skewer the college admissions process while almost celebrating the admissions journey. It's a weird balance, but Fey has always been masterful at finding the heart and humor in both the absurd and the normal. If Admission had become an edgier film, I have a strange feeling that we'd be watching yet another really great Tina Fey comedy.
Unfortunately, director Paul Weitz seems to be trying to create something along the lines of his slightly edgy and sentimental About a Boy but in this case he's falling woefully short. There isn't really enough likability to turn Admission into anything more than an opening weekend winner and even that may prove to be a stretch.
It also hurts, especially during the film's more romantic scenes, that Fey and Rudd seem like they'd make better backstage theatrical buddies than actual lovers. Rudd seems to be finding himself in more and more of a, well, rut when it comes to the characters that he's playing. John Pressman is yet another in Rudd's long line of fairly bland, slightly greater than one-note good guys. It's hard not to wonder if we're watching John Pressman or we're just watching Rudd.
The film picks up pace when Lily Tomlin shows up as Portia's feminist mother, a role that seems almost frighteningly perfect for the wondrously bold and funny Tomlin. Every time Tomlin is on the screen, everything feels right with Admissions but every time she leaves the screen it's as if the entire film has been deflated.
The film was partially filmed on Princeton University's campus, and it's very much at its best when we're going behind-the-scenes to watch the intimate details of the admissions process in a way that not so subtly points fingers at Princeton and other universities for their practices. These scenes never quite qualify as truly bold, but they feel more authentic and vibrant than anything that happens between Rudd and Fey and they feel like what the film should actually be about.
Unfortunately, it's not.
You may very well find yourself enjoying Admission if you fancy yourself a fan of Fey, Rudd, Tomlin or even just campus-based comedies. While this feels very much like a missed opportunity to make a really good film, at their worst it's pretty darn entertaning to watch this talented trio do everything they can to give more like to Admission than it really deserves.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic