Admission Review

poster for the Focus Features film Admission

This week was another slow one, with our theater getting three movies I wasn’t that keen on: Olympus Has Fallen, The Croods, and Admission. I chose Admission because with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (two of my comedic favorites) playing the leads (and a storyline I at least hadn’t seen a million times before) I figured it would have the best chance of being pretty good.

A college admissions officer has a conflict of interest when the director of an alternative high school tells her that their applicant is her son.

I yelled at Admission in my trailer review for ‘revealing’ the son thing, but now that I’ve seen it I’ve realized that the son thing is actually one of the central driving forces of the movie, not a wrench thrown into a dominant romantic comedy plotline. As such Admission was a lot more put together than I thought. It was also half decently funny, but it was neither actor’s best film.

Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University who is living a boring, work-dominated life. She spends most of her time sifting through the personal essays of kids desperate to get into an Ivy League school. Then she goes home to her boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), who treats her like a well-trained dog.

Tina Fey and Michael Sheen in the Focus Features film Admission

Good puppy! Who wants a sausage?

In the obligatory life-turning-upside-down sequence, Mark leaves her for the Virginia Woolf scholar he impregnated and John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a teacher at an alternative high school, informs her that he thinks his student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) might be the son she gave up in college. If you think John should not have access to this information, you are correct, which is why the movie jumps through hoops trying to explain how John’s friend drove Portia to the hospital and then told John the exact time and date of the baby’s birth, which he still remembers 18 years later… or something.

Tina Fey, Nat Wolff, and Paul Rudd in the Focus Features film Admission

So… you’re guessing? You guess this is my son? I guess you’re crazy.

Jeremiah is applying to Princeton but since he’s a weird genius who has a ventriloquist’s dummy of Rene Descartes and a transcript full of Ds and Fs from his old high school, it’s going to take some underhanded efforts on Portia’s part to get him in, especially since she and rival admissions officer Corinne (Gloria Reuben) are also competing for the opportunity to replace the head of their department (Wallace Shawn) when he retires.

Tina Fey, Wallace Shawn, and Gloria Reuben in the Focus Features film Admission

So, Portia… any fun facts you want to share about this lunatic you’ve decide to champion?

Portia and her colleagues spend a lot of time sifting through orange folders of application material and then discussing their relative merits, which could get boring even with Portia occasionally livening things up with a one liner, so the writers included an interesting mechanic where the kids whose essays are being read or whose applications are being talked about are actually in the room (via Portia’s imagination).

a gymnast in the admissions office in the Focus Features film Admission

As you would expect, most of them are insane overachievers trying to outdo one another.

Of course, this is Princeton, so most of them don’t get in. In fact, there’s an interesting motif of doors marked NO ADMITTANCE in this movie because so many people seem to see admissions officers as actively blocking their child from having a bright future. After they send out their letters, they have a hilarious board in their office of effusive well wishes (from the parents of the accepted) and inventive insults (from the parents of the rejected).

Tina Fey as a Princeton admissions officer in the Focus Features film Admission

I’m sorry, but if wishing made rectal cancer I’d have been dead long ago.

But Portia isn’t falling in love with Corinne, so we occasionally have to find some excuse for Portia and John to visit each other. Jeremiah is that excuse – he’s the reason Portia and John don’t meet once and then go their separate ways. John’s supposed to be leaving for another project in Ecuador (presumably to complicate their romance) but his adopted son Nelson (Travaris Spears) would rather stick around, especially since he’s taken a shine to ‘boring’ Portia and her hilarious militant scholar of a mother (Lily Tomlin).

Travaris Spears as Nelson in the Focus Features film Admission

For my birthday, I want a mom. Specifically Portia as my mom, please and thank you.

I realize I’ve mostly just been outlining the plot of Admission rather than criticizing or praising it, and that’s because it’s one of those movies that’s just kind of THERE. I mean, I mostly enjoyed it while I was watching it (except for those awkward moments that always seem to be in Tina Fey movies) but it wasn’t good enough to leave a lasting impression. I can’t even seem to drum up enough energy to comment on what I would change about the story if I could.

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the Focus Features film Admission

Yeah, you guys are cute. But are you memorable?

So I guess if you want an alternative to doing nothing and you would like to have a few laughs, watch Admission. But it’s not going to change your life or anything, especially if you’ve seen Tina Fey’s better material (30 Rock, SNL, Mean Girls, Date Night, etc.) and are expecting more of the same from this movie.

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