Admission

2013, Movie, PG-13, 107 mins

Review

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Armed with a revered and award-wining comedy writer as his female lead, and one of the most consistently likable and engaging male leads of his generation, the romantic comedy Admission should be so much better than it is -- a complaint that seems to run pretty consistently through the post-About a Boy work of director Paul Weitz.

Tina Fey stars as Portia, a bigwig in the admissions department at Princeton, a school that prides itself of accepting only the very best. Portia is a workaholic on less-than-stellar terms with her über-independent, feminist-minded mother (Lily Tomlin). In addition to sifting through thousands of hopeful applicants, Portia’s work involves visiting various high schools to extol the virtues of her Ivy League employers. One of these stops is at an unconventional school run by John Pressman (Paul Rudd), who encourages Portia to consider his best student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), even though the brilliant, orphaned teen has a checkered educational history. Complicating matters further, John believes Jeremiah might be Portia’s son, given up for adoption eighteen years before.

Tina Fey is undeniably a brilliant comedy writer, but this is not her script, and while there are good laugh lines scattered through the movie, the attempts at genuine drama never quite take root -- possibly because this is Fey’s first attempt to stretch our perception of her as an actress. She’s not without skill in this capacity; she brings an admirable element of pathos to the scenes where she humiliates herself in attempts to protect Jeremiah, but the writing feels by-the-numbers, and Fey can’t quite overcome the pedestrian dialogue. Likewise, Rudd, an actor capable of winning over audience with just a smile, has almost nothing to play with. His character seems to exist solely to set the plot of the movie in motion. The two actors are fine together, but the characters never feel like three-dimensional people.

Nat Wolff gets the juiciest character, and the young actor is rock-solid in the part; he’s quite endearing as a genius kid who hasn’t yet developed the social skills he’s going to need to get through life, even though we can tell he will acquire them in time. He’s immature, but not hopelessly so. Tomlin gets the biggest laughs of the movie largely because her character is so cruelly blunt with her daughter -- their relationship is easily the most interesting element of the script.

Sadly, that and almost everything else fall by the wayside during an overly long final act devoted to Portia making a heartfelt pitch to the admissions board to let Jeremiah into the prestigious university. The whole sequence goes on for so long that eventually it dawns on us that we’re not invested in their decision, or in the budding relationship between Portia and John, or in anything much at all happening onscreen.

Like much of Weitz’s previous work (Being Flynn, American Dreamz, In Good Company), Admission squanders its most interesting aspects, flattening them out into a tidy, dull narrative instead of running with their more outlandish aspects, or focusing deeper on the pain at the heart of the characters. leave a comment --Perry Seibert

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