Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in this rocky comedy from ‘American Pie’ director Paul Weitz, which jumps between being a heartfelt drama and gross-out comedy far too often. Based on the novel of the same name by Jean Hanff Korelitz and adapted to a screenplay by Karen Croner, ‘Admission’ tells a tale on the ins and outs of being accepted into college, especially one of the most notable and best colleges in America. Even with top-notch talent rounding out this little film, I only expect modern returns at the box office due to its subject matter.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this story play out. However, this is a little bit different than usual. Instead of a college movie focused on the students and parents, we focus on a teacher and one of the employees of the famous Princeton University admissions office. We all know how difficult it is to receive an acceptance letter from any college, let alone Princeton. When the deadline approaches for admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey), she seems to have things regimented and under control. Meanwhile, Portia is competing herself for acceptance for a promotion to Dean of Admissions, a position currently occupied by Wallace Shawn.
As I said above, even with crucial deadlines and thousands of applications to go through, Portia seems to be incredibly organized. She’s been doing this job for many years and it just comes naturally to her. As she tours a few high schools, when asked what the secret to getting accepted is, her only answer is, “Be yourself,” one piece of advice she’ll soon have to follow.
An old classmate of Portia’s by the name of John (Rudd) calls her up and asks her to visit a new-age school where he teaches, and to meet one of his brightest students named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who hopes to attend Princeton. We find out that Jeremiah is adopted from middle-class parents who can’t afford Princeton’s high tuition. He also has less than average grades, but is an autodidact with flawless test scores across the board.
Everything seems on the up-and-up until a couple of strange situations hit Portia full force. An awkward sexual tension between John and Portia leads to a clumsy sex scene, and to top it off, John informs Portia that Jeremiah is her son that she gave up for adoption back when she was in college. This sends Portia into a flaming nosedive of erratic emotions. As John tries to win Portia’s heart and keep his adopted kid happy, both struggle to do what’s right in an unusual situation, whether it be travel the world with a young child who wants some consistency or cheat the system for a loved one.
On a whole, the story is decent. However, the execution in telling this tale is a bit of a mess and doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. On one hand, we have two endearing people talking about love and their future, but then we immediately transform a tender dramatic moment into a silly gross-out scene that involves birthing a baby calf. It takes us out of the essential storyline for a cheap laugh. That’s the major downfall of ‘Admission’.
Fey and Rudd do very well as deeply and emotionally flawed characters who always seem to do the right thing at the last-minute. Wolff does an outstanding job as the awkward teenager who sees things clearer than most and who has a love of ventriloquism. Really stealing the show is Lily Tomlin as Portia’s feminist hippie mother. Her wicked banter about how much she has suffered and been through it all is amazingly funny.
The movie has some funny jabs at college admissions and acceptances, even some at Princeton’s expense, while Fey and Rudd turn in solid but awkward performances. ‘Admission’ is enjoyable for the most part, but I don’t see people clamoring to see it a second time. The heart and soul is here, but its realization is clumsily handled.