|Tina Fey, Nat Wolff and Paul Rudd in Admission|
** out of ****
There’s a scene early in Admission when its main character pushes the importance of smart kids going on to earn honorable degrees. For with a prestigious education, they have the power to positively impact the way this crazy world is run. Could they start with how feel-good comedies are made?
Director Paul Weitz (About a Boy) and screenwriter Karen Croner (One True Thing) are two people I would assume to be very educated and probably hold important credentials, but they have made a rather bland comedy that only stays afloat due to a likeable cast.
Admission is about a meticulous no-nonsense Princeton admissions officer played in perfect deadpan form by Tina Fey. Her world is suddenly changed when she discovers an applicant (Nat Wolff) may be the accidental child she gave up for adoption in her twenties.
The seventeen-year-old attends a progressive school, which resembles a commune-style farm. The school is run by an ideal man - and this film’s love interest - played by Paul Rudd, in a performance that has the same mild tongue-in-cheek nature as the experimental school his character runs.
Rudd’s character champions the kid’s brilliance and his dream to go to Princeton. Fey’s character, unable to tell the boy she is his mother, sets aside her stingy objectivity and tries to get him in, despite his uneven academic background.
The film has a kind of stupid misplaced focus on the subject of its title. The main character wants her estranged son to be happy and he wants to go to Princeton. She starts to pull strings in the admission process. What she eventually does is wrongly portrayed as sympathetic, as this unconventional learner may not be Princeton material at all. It is conveyed that he is a good and smart kid deserving of great things, but an Ivy League School might be a terrible place for someone who lacks structure. The movie really tries to make a big deal about him getting in and I couldn’t get behind that for one minute.
Lily Tomlin plays Fey’s mother and that is truly inspired casting. She is a reclusive feminist scholar and is emotionally insensitive to her daughter’s troubles with the belief that everything can be made better by liberation from any attachments -Hardly the thing a woman who thinks she’s found her son needs to hear. This is a good element of the film. Unfortunately it’s a subplot and fails to fuse, as well as it wants, with the rest of the movie.
I went to see Admission without imposing very high standards. I just wanted an innocent and simple crowd-pleaser that existed on it’s own terms of comic reality and didn’t owe us any kind of accurate portrayal of how the admissions office of a degree-earning institution really functions. I was prepared for all of that as long as I was entertained by witty banter and original farcical inventions.
Instead, I got a semi-funny movie broken up by weak attempts at sincere drama, never funny enough or emotionally investing. It left me hyper-aware that the only thing driving the emotion, were the bittersweet contemporary music selections plugged into every emotional passage the film took. If you know what I’m talking about, you know this kind of editorial method is used and abused in every comedy/drama movie you see these days, and aren’t you tired of it too?
I was kind of surprised that this movie came from Focus Features, normally known for more art-house fare. Universal, for which Focus is a division, would normally put out a movie of this kind under their label. Did the subject of Ivy League schools sound too intense to market as a mainstream movie? It sure felt like one to me. Maybe this was slated to be a Focus release from the beginning except it was planned to be interesting.
Tina Fey, who often writes the great material for herself as a performer, was only involved with this project as an actor. As a movie star now, she deserves better and should have possessed the wisdom to stamp a “deny” when she was handed this script.