Walking into a movie where Paul Rudd and Tina Fey co-star your first thought is – this is going to be funny. And while at times I was doubled over laughing – it was typically thanks to the sarcastic nature of Lily Tomlin’s character, who plays Fey’s feminist mother.
Admission is surprisingly heart wrenching at times and an interesting assessment on “what it takes” to get into an Ivy League school, but for the most part the film falls flat. Fey plays Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer who gave up her baby for adoption while attending Dartmouth. At the beginning of the film we are introduced to Portia’s live in boyfriend, a fellow Princeton employee played by Michael Sheen. He leaves Portia, almost immediately, for a younger woman whom he’s been cheating on her with. He reappears throughout the film typically at times when Portia is having emotional break downs. The first time it’s mildly amusing. By the second or third time, the irony of it begins to fade and it comes across as a cheesy gag in a movie that’s not sure if it wants to be a comedy, drama, or something else completely.
After Portia’s dumping, the movies moves on to the true heart of the plot when a former classmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd), contacts Portia about potential college candidates at the New Hampshire school where he teaches. John introduces Portia to Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), an adopted, average student and self prescribed autodidact. Although he has a D average, his scores on AP placement tests and the SATS are up to Princeton standards. And even more importantly, John believes that Jeremiah is the child Portia gave up for adoption years ago.
John is able to convince Portia that she is Jeremiah’s birthmother (his birth certificate has the same date, time and hospital Portia gave birth) and from there, Portia does everything she can to try to get Jeremiah into the college, despite the high stakes consequences.
The cinematography of Admission also adds to the unbalanced feel of the film. Paul Weitz uses many two shots (a film technique, typically a close up of only two actors in a scene) in his direction of Fey and Rudd, which creates drama between the charismatic duo, but shows a lack in sexual chemistry that you find in most romantic comedies. The film also suffers from a lack of establishing shots, making it difficult for the viewer to tell if the action is occurring on Princeton’s campus, at Pressman’s school or at Portia’s home.
While the movie was a new spin on the college admission scenario, it often became repetitive and unrealistic (we’re supposed to believe Princeton really keeps their admission files in paper folders?). The saving grace of the film is theme of relationships between parents and children. Showcasing several different family situations, the film shows that there are many different ways to define family and brings to light a strong message: listen to your children instead of forcing them to become something they’re not. This theme gives the film a heartwarming feel that makes up for some of it’s other lackluster features.