Admission was one of the first books I reviewed on my book blog, back in 2009, and I remember the novel took me a while to get through. It was a serious book, and I liked it a lot; I was surprised, then, to see it being made into a movie, and being marketed as a comedy, with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the leading roles. Although the movie had not been receiving good reviews, I still wanted to see it; unfortunately, as I suspected, it doesn’t really know what movie genre it wants to be, and because of that, the film as a whole suffers.
Portia Nathan (Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton, and is currently in the midst of helping to select the incoming freshman class of 2016. Her work is her life, and she takes it very seriously. When she learns that her boss (Wallace Shawn) is about to retire, she pits herself against one of her ambitious coworkers, Corinne (Gloria Reuben), so that she will be the top choice for the job; when she gets a call from John Pressman (Rudd), the principal of an alternative school called Quest, she goes to the school thinking that it will score her some originality points. What she finds, however, is an exceptionally bright student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who wants to apply to Princeton, although “on paper” his grades are awful. When John tells her that he thinks Jeremiah is the son she gave up for adoption eighteen years ago, she’s shocked, but wants to do her best to help him gain admission to Princeton.
First off: I’m thinking that someone sat Tina Fey down and told her, “Now, you know, Tina, this is a serious role, even though the movie is a comedy,” and then Tina acted appropriately to how she thought the part should be. Because the Tina Fey in this movie is definitely not Liz Lemon (30 Rock) or any role I’ve ever seen Tina play, and even though the script was far from great, Tina Fey is a much better actress than the “Tina robot” I saw in this movie. The film can’t decide if it wants to be a love story or a story about college admissions, and frankly, I wish it had just stuck to college admissions: Fey and Rudd don’t really have any chemistry together. Even though Rudd is playing the likeable, “everyday” man that he plays in most of his movies, for some reason he and Tina weren’t able to connect at all, although some of Rudd’s lines did make me laugh.
No, don’t see this movie. Although I did laugh a few times throughout the film, the movie was not a comedy, and it wasn’t a love story either, even though it’s being marketed as both. In fact, if it was a real life situation, I’m not sure why anyone would love Portia, because her character was kind of a robot, like I said before – but at the same time, it could be that this is so because Tina Fey decided to play her as such. The best scenes in the movie are actually between Portia and her mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin), especially one where they are screaming at each other in front of Rudd’s character; it breathed some life into the story. There’s a semi-funny side plot with Fey and her ex (Michael Sheen), where she sees him and the woman he cheated on her with everywhere, and I’ll admit I did laugh a few times – but overall, this movie is more awkward that comedic.
In spite of all of this, though, I’m still giving this movie 2.5 stars out of 5, and the reason for that is that the story drew me in. I’d like to reread the book now and see how similar they are, too, but the story in the film version is still compelling: there’s moral issues at stake, especially near the end; there’s the story of a mother-daughter relationship, as well as that daughter figuring out if she’s Jeremiah’s mother; and there’s an (admittedly very flawed) romance between Fey and Rudd’s characters. It’s kind of sad, too, because this could have been a good movie: there are fleeting moments throughout, especially the last few lines at the end, where I could see possibilities of greatness shining through, waiting to be seen. That being said, this is definitely a film you can wait to see on DVD, if you are so inclined, as it doesn’t function wholly as either a comedy or a drama.
Admission is in theaters today, March 22nd, and is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 117 minutes.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.