Tina Fey may have left a 30-minute hole in my Thursday night viewing with 30 Rock coming to an end after seven seasons, but she’s gonna have to do better than Admission to make up for it. We know Fey is better than this, having written the instant classic Mean Girls and working as head writer for Saturday Night Live.
Director Paul Weitz on the other hand, is coming back to what he knows best. Admission may not live up to the standards he set with About a Boy and In Good Company, but this is way better than Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant or American Dreamz. Even American Pie was better than this and we’ll just pretend Little Fockers never happened.
In Admission, Fey plays Portia Nathan who has worked in the Princeton University admissions office for 16 years. Portia loves her simple life, in which work comes first but still makes time for her live-in long-term boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen) — even though Mark literally treats her like a dog. At work, the Dean of Admissions Clarence (Wallace Shawn), has just informed everyone of some bad news — Princeton has suddenly fallen to No. 2 in the college application rankings and he will soon be retiring. Portia is one of Clarence’s two best admission officers — the other being the automaton-like Corinne (Gloria Reuben).
While out scouting for college hopefuls, she winds up at the New Development School, Quest, run by John Pressman (Paul Rudd). Pressman wants her to meet his best student, the quirky Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). While there, John tells Portia that he has proof Jeremiah is her son. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with her feminist mother, Susannah (the ever reliable Lily Tomlin), and the news that Mark is leaving her after knocking up the mean-spirited Helen (Sonya Walger). Things go from bad to worse as she deals with the idea of meeting her supposed son who wants more than anything to go to Princeton, even though his transcript is the worst she’s ever seen. Now, Portia has to come to terms with her life choice of 17 years ago, and help Jeremiah get into Princeton because she’s all about helping the little guys get in.
Screenwriter Karen Croner adapts Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel with no regard to how film plots work. We all know that some things in books don’t translate well to the big screen. Admission is not helped by Weitz who may know how to wring a joke from his cast, but is working with none of the subtlety he’s shown in the past — the soundtrack choices being the worst offense. The last half of the movie really gets bogged down with overwrought sentimentality. Fey and Rudd try to keep things moving, but Tomlin and Sheen steal the film right out from under them. Sheen gets used strictly for the broadest laughs. But they work — probably due to having portrayed the same character relationship with Fey on 30 Rock. Admission may be just another piece of Hollywood fluff filling the gap before the summer blockbusters come charging in if it slips under your radar I won’t be surprised as the theater I attended was barely half full; just like the movie.
Photos courtesy Focus Features