"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos

1 Post from March 2013


Tina Fey and Paul Rudd admit they have more than an academic interest in one another, in Admission.

ADMISSION - directed by Paul Weitz

Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben




Rating: 2 out of 5 Chaplins.

{Opens Friday 22 March 2013}

Tina Fey is a sharp comedy writer and a natural comic actor.  Her zingy and savagely funny TV sitcom, 30 Rock, which just finished its final season, was an anarchic and loopy satire about television and the neurotically wacky people who make TV programming.  It was a brilliant follow-up to Tina Fey’s outstanding contributions as the head writer and sometimes performer on Saturday Night Live, from 1997-2006.  Fey’s few forays in feature film comedy have been sporadic, delivering mixed results (Baby Mama, The Invention of Lying, Date Night).  She is back on the big screen with a new comedy-drama entitled Admission, co-starring Paul Rudd, which unfortunately falls flat for Fey.

Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer who is vying with a colleague to replace the outgoing head of the department (Wallace Shawn).  As the new school year approaches, Portia discovers her live-in lover, an English literature professor (Michael Sheen wasted in a limp role), has gotten another woman pregnant, with twins!  In the course of dealing with this shocking news, Portia is on the road, giving admissions talks and advice at various high schools in her designated region when she meets John (Paul Rudd), an idealistic teacher at an alternative high school, who is also her former college classmate.  Paul is actively promoting an unconventional student prodigy, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), to Portia for admittance into Princeton.  Portia learns from John that Jeremiah could be her son whom she gave up for adoption when she was a college student.  Meanwhile, romantic feelings stir between Portia and John as she struggles with taking unethical actions to insure her son’s admittance into Princeton. 

The major problem with Admission is its pedestrian screenplay, written by Karen Croner (based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz).  It wants to be a comedy, a romance, and a satire about the university admissions process, all mixed with elements of a heartfelt drama.  It just doesn’t do any of those things well.  It is soft on all counts, from the filmmakers dependence on obvious, prosaic pop songs to its ill attempt at poignancy in its final act. Even with the legendary Lily Tomlin as Portia’s feminist scholar mother (she has a tattoo of Bella Abzug on her arm), and the eccentrically charming elfin actor, Wallace Shaw, Admission rarely gets jolted out of its malaise.   It is clear that Tomlin and Shawn are along for the ride and do not have their hearts in their pale roles. The affable Paul Rudd is earnestly serviceable as Fey’s suitor, but his bland presence sparks as much romantic passion as an SAT test.

Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, Little Fockers) directed Admission without much verve and style.  He moves the camera arbitrarily and the editing is erratic.  Shots seem to cut together randomly, with no sense of perspective, making Admission feel more like an ordinary TV show than a feature film with a distinctive perspective.

Admission is not a total loss.  It does feature occasional amusing moments, a refreshingly unpredictable third act twist and Tina Fey is naturally engaging and sexy - in her nerdy, bookish way - but she needs better material if she wants to make a strong mark in feature film comedies.  Perhaps working with a writer-director on the level of Woody Allen or Wes Anderson would expand the scope of her talents.  Much like Allen and Anderson, I believe that Fey has the potential to write and direct her own unique theatrical comedies, but first she needs to take a cue from her Portia Nathan character by decisively stamping “Deny” on future scripts like Admission.