The Princeton get-into-college movie Admission doesn't make the grade. And soon after it starts, we don't care.
Admission seeks to be a dramedy about the new world order: torment its cast with real-life difficulties and leave their futures uncertain, all while comedic interludes are supposed to encourage laughter from an audience who thought they paid for something else. Yes, Admission attempts this lofty but completely unrealistic goal, leaving us to question why we bothered to witness the result.
Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey, 30 Rock) lives a well-ordered but boring existence. In addition to pouring through applications for admission, her routines also include speaking engagements throughout Northeast high schools encouraging students to apply to what was the most applied-to school in the country. Even though her life is unfulfilled she's up for a promotion to dean of admissions but must compete with her backstabbing colleague Corinne (Gloria Reuben, Lincoln) to replace the soon-to-retire dean (Wallace Shawn, Princess Bride). Soon, the pillars of her life begin to fall apart when her live-in boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen, Tron: Legacy) announces that he's leaving her, setting off an unrelated series of events that will soon see her entire professional life come to an end. You see, Portia gets a call from Principal John Pressman (Paul Rudd, I Love You Man), who's convinced that his student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) is somehow Princeton material, whose didactic education has resulted in poor school grades but high SAT scores. But that's not all: John is convinced that Jeremiah is Portia's long-lost son, whom she gave up for adoption soon after birth. As she and John fall for one another, Portia must decide whether to risk her entire professional future over Jeremiah's desire to attend Princeton.
If all this sounds like some sort of Frankenstein patchwork of a story, credit Karen Croner (“One True Thing”) who based her screenplay on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz. While I never read the book, Admission never really works out what it is on the big screen - funny dramedy, serious comedy/character study. The idea that a complete stranger would accept the legitimacy of a copied birth certificate from another total stranger is without explanation. Moreover, the suggestion that a woman would throw away 16 years of well-paid employment to get her sort-of son into her place of employment without losing her job is preposterous. Oh yeah, she does get him in, does get fired, but later learns that Jeremiah is not in fact her son. Enjoy the unemployment line, Portia!
Director Paul Weitz (Being Flynn) has his own difficulties, like keeping the audience awake. He fails to generate any meaningful connection with his stars, none of whom have any chemistry with one another. Fey is totally incapable of pulling off drama like this, leaving one to wonder if the film might have been better had Portia been better cast. The same goes with Rudd, who just seems to be going through the motions. The only one here with a pulse is Portia's feminist icon mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin, 9 to 5), whose hardline stand with her daughter and independent lifestyle has created a life of deep resentment. But even she isn't well-used, acting as nothing more than colorful wallpaper while Fey struggles with her choices. I'm not convinced that even a stellar cast could have pulled this one off, as the story is just too rambling.
Granted, the plot twists in Act 3 do surprise, but not in the way Weitz and Croner intended when they pitched the project. To them, its realistic and dour ending must have looked mighty good on paper. But again, Admission fails to drive home an effective last spike, leaving a main character who sacrificed everything for a son that was never hers, in a new relationship that probably won't work out.
As the ending gladly arrives, we learn that Portia has reached out to her son through the adoption agency, only to learn that he's not ready to see her. By this time, audiences will have all the ammunition they need to question whether this stunning resolution was appropriate given the cast Weitz hired. Audiences will no doubt debate whether their investment of time was worth the result. I doubt the few of them who venture to this movie in the first place will walk away with a positive response. Admission is rated PG-13 for sexual situations and has a runtime of 117 minutes.
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