Admission – 2013
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben, Tavaris Spears
Screenplay Karen Croner based on Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The gift that Tina Fey brings to her movies is not limited to laughs. It’s straight up compassion. Her characters are often self-depreciating, but intelligent. Maybe what she lacks in self-esteem she makes up for in awareness of what others have to offer. She has a knack for finding material that suits her strengths and cradles her weaknesses with the care of a mother for her newborn child.
In Admission, Fey is Portia, an Admissions officer at Princeton. Quite obviously, she is not meant for the position, but is playing the game, hoping to move up. The game is all about numbers of applicants. I am not sure if it’s the sheer number, or percentage of rejected applications. There is a clever way this process is shown, where as the paperwork is read, an apparition of the prospective student shows up in the corner of the room. These are lives that are being affected.
An instructor at a Northeastern School named John (Rudd) has been working hard to get a hold of Portia. He has one student named Jeramiah (Wolff) he’d like for her to meet. He’s an exceptional talent with a questionable educational past. Along the way, Portia meets John’s adopted son, Nelson (Spears). The dynamic between Nelson, Portia and John is obvious, but still organic. It’s fun to discover a kid who is actually drawn to someone because she is boring, as compared to a his father, who is worldly. Kids want to have roots.
The story of Admission has been told before, but rarely is it told with such intelligence or compassion. Clichés are headed off at the pass early, and the characters have time to breathe, to develop. The chemistry of Fey and Rudd pops off the screen. It’s nice to see two nice people who like each other. Each of the other players avoid caricature. They pick their spots, add to the story, then move on. The soundtrack matches the tone of the film, which is more somber than your average comedy.
That’s the main problem with the film It is marketed quite heavily as a comedy, but is more a drama with the occasional smile. It’s like Fey’s Mean Girls, or Rudd’s This is 40, minus about 75% of the laughs. I don’t think that is a fault of the filmmakers, though. They pretty much made the film they wanted to make. It’s the decision of those wanting to sell a film, though, and the change-up may have had something to do with the paltry box office numbers.
(**** out of ******)