Admission (2 1/2 stars out of 5)
Directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, Little Fockers)
Written by Karen Croner (One True Thing)
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are two of my favorite comedic people working today. Fey was one of the best head writers at Saturday Night Live, produced, wrote, and starred in one of the best sitcoms 30 Rock, and she she host well! Rudd is that everyman who play silly or dry from Clueless, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and so much more this guy is beyond like able. The combination of these two was inevitable, and should produce some of the best material, enter a poorly structured screenplay, which borders on contrived.
The film centers around Portia Nathan (Fey) an admissions officer at Princeton. Portia is a pretty by the book person; she has had the job for 16 years, and she is often described as boring by one of the characters. The process of admission to Princeton is not boring, the film explores the high stakes process of admission to a competitive higher education institution. While involved in the latest round of reviewing applications Portia John Pressman (Rudd) who runs a new school called Quest, which has its first group of graduating seniors. While interacting with this group John introduces Portia to Jeremiah (Wolff) whom John claims is her son. Portia has claimed throughout the early stages of the film she is no good with kids, but as Jeremiah expresses interest in admission to Princeton Portia's maternal instincts kick into high gear.
Two things struck me at first with this film. The first was a professional in higher education. I work at Northeastern University in Boston, a somewhat competitive institution, and it's interesting to see who gets in, and how that creates a class dynamic. I could talk about the higher education side of this film for days, the helicopter parents, the stress students face, the role bias plays (racial socio-economic etc) in an admission process. I have to say that I admire the way this film covered the elements of higher education, the pain the pressure for both students and parents. Croner whose son was in the film and has gone through the admission process on some level gets every little emotion right.
The second is also related to Croner's script, and the moments that were just missed or contrived. In reading it seems as though Cronner strayed a bit from the book written by Jean Horiff Korelitz. (Here is an interview from Vulture where the two talk about their collaboration http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/admission-novelist-first-reeled-at-film-version.html). Koreliztz's book focuses mainly on the admission process, which as stated above is the most engaging piece of the movie, but makes up a small percentage. Instead Croner focuses on this sappy rom-com-y type story, which, along with the gags like Portia constantly seeing her ex is a waste of screen time.
Weitz never succeeds with the material either, and his direction of both actors and the premise seem surface level. The one aspect of the film, which I loved (and again related to the actual admissions process) was getting to see the actual image of student as Fey or others were reading their applications. I thought this added depth and style to a shallow surface level film.
The film has its fun moments Fey and Rudd are charming, but I would have rather seen them in darker material together. While I love Fey I want to see her challenge herself more as an actress and step outside of the Liz Lemon character; she carried that through this film, and while it did not hurt the film it did show she still has some growth within the film world.
The film is sappy, predictable, sometimes funny, and has a few moments which are endearing. The pay off is not enough. I would have liked to explore the complex struggle Portia faces at work, and through the concept of providing constant rejection to students as they apply to Princeton. I am also a higher education dork, but when the script gets this right, and fails on the love story, what else would you want?