“To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal and I would never take it away from anyone, but I would also never stand in line for it.”
Synopsis: A Princeton admissions officer (Fey) who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.
Just over seven hours away from me is a group of people who will at some point over the next month or so, make a judgement call. Accept me in their small graduate program or not? It’s a decision that will determine what the next year of my life will be like and it’s completely out of my hands.
While I’m applying to a small program in the Midwest, Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton University, one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, which just lost its No. 1 spot in the U.S. News rankings.
The film opens with Portia doing what she’s loyally done for 16 years, going through files of prospective high school students who hope their multitude of accomplishments both in and out of the classroom are enough to get them admitted.
Then enters John Pressman (Rudd), the head of a development school located 10 minutes from where Portia grew up, who wants to her to review the application his brightest student, Jeremiah. It turns out John dated Portia’s roommate in college and surmised from something she told him that Jeremiah is the baby Portia gave up for adoption. Thus begins the movie’s tale of Portia doing everything she can in order to get her would-be-son into
N0.1 No.2 college in the country.
While “Admission” fits into the mold of a straight-forward dramedy, There are certain elements to it one wouldn’t expect from a film like this. Whenever an admission officer reads the file of a applicant, the teen suddenly appears in the room to recite the contents of their application. It’s a very effective way to put the audience in a sympathetic mindset for the applicant — right before they’re denied entry and disappear through a trap door. It sort of reminded me of the sequence in “Jack Reacher” where the opening shooting sequence is retold from the victims point-of-view, one of the more riveting sequnces from last year.
While director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”) is able to put together a compelling narrative, the movie lacks any real motivating energy, making the time spent watching feel longer than its 107-minute run time. Some of this comes from story lines and gags that go on for too long, including Portia constantly running into her ex-boyfriend, who leaves her after getting a “vile Virginia Woolf scholar” pregnant.
But there is energy to be had and that’s in the chemistry of the ensemble cast, which consists of Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin and Michael Sheen.
After plowing through the entire run of “30 Rock” earlier this year I’m completely in love with the talent of Tina Fey. Portia is more put together here than Liz Lemon, but there’s just enough there, be it from Fey herself or the screenplay by Karen Corner, to make the character sympathetic. The most surprising part of the movie is that sympathy is challenged toward the end as Portia makes questionable decisions to help Jeremiah.
As the quote prefacing this review stated, I would never stand in line for Paul Rudd. I don’t hate the guy, in fact I thought he was a nice addition as the teacher in last year’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” He’s charismatic as Pressman and had a great back-and-forth with Fey, but who doesn’t have that? Rudd is serviceable, but works better in a supporting role.
The surprise in “Admission” is Nat Wolff, who plays the autodidactic Jeremiah. Though he was initially presented as a character with quirks bordering on those present in Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory,” that is quickly averted. Wolff has the awkward charisma I associate with Jason Segel and I would love to see them in project together down the line.
The story presented in “Admission ” is one relatable to parent and child, teacher and student. While the family themes can be slightly overbearing at times, it wasn’t enough to dampen my investment in the story.
While I’m giving the movie a “Rent” judgement, “Admission” is a unique film in its genre. Not all of the stories presented end with a nice bow. There are consequences to actions that in a similar movie would be swept away by the magical hand of “narrative convenience.” Just because Portia’s character is worthy of some sympathy doesn’t mean she should escape fault and thankfully she doesn’t. It’s a decision which makes the movie well worth a viewing.