Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Like an antidote to hormone-driven college comedies, ‘Admission’ aims to be a light-hearted dramedy that lets audiences in on the secret of picking which bright minds get through the Ivy League gates.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the film looks promising for its star players alone. One expects to be tickled silly by comic pairing Paul Rudd and Tina Fey, as well as fall for director Paul Weitz’s vision after 2003’s all-round pleaser ‘About A Boy’. But despite the strong bill, ‘Admission’ chugs along without a firm hook.
Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey, in her first big-screen role after wrapping up ‘30 Rock’) takes comfort in the predictable, a trait which might stem from her dysfunctional relationship with her feminist, emotionally detached mother (Lily Tomlin, boldly funny in her bit role). She’s stayed in the same job for 16 years, is in the running to replace her boss when he steps down, and has a long-term – but frigid – relationship with the Head of English. Life couldn’t be peachier.
Everything gets derailed when she gets in touch with John Pressman, her old college classmate who heads an alternative school and is a foster father of a Ugandan orphan. Milking the cliché that opposites attract, John is the free-wheeling, hippie counterweight to Portia. He introduces her to his brilliant but underachieving student Jeremiah, who he suspects is the son that Portia gave up for adoption after a college tryst gone wrong. Just as suddenly, her boyfriend dumps her for another academic who he knocked up, sending her fumbling between recovering from heartbreak and embracing ‘mom’ mode.
Thanks to John’s convincing and her own guilt, she gets emotionally invested in making sure Jeremiah fulfills his dream of getting to Princeton. Her attempts to break the rules make the bulk of this two-hour flick, and while they’re meant to be amusing take on a mother wanting the best for her child, they quickly become too far-flung for her character. Would someone this sensible resort to pimping off her mother to a lusty professor in exchange for a letter of recommendation? Writer Karen Croner certainly hopes you think so.
Both Rudd and Fey earnestly try to make the most of the scattered storyline with their charming personalities. Glossing over the romance between the leads, the script shoots to explore parenthood, adoption and critiquing a stiff education system through Portia and John’s contrasting lives, but only manages to graze the surface of matters. The biggest waste, perhaps, is that it isn’t very funny. Most of the situational humour reads too awkward and slight to be laugh-out-loud, and you’re left feeling that the talent on screen is untapped.
To Weitz’s credit, his use of imaginative visual effects perks things up at points. During the round table meeting to pick Princeton’s next cohort, for example, hopeful students magically appear in front of the panel and get flushed down a trapdoor to an unknown, grim fate (read: a lesser university, the horror!) if rejected. It’s endearing, snappy, and gives a glimpse of what the movie could’ve been with tighter writing.
Final score on the report card? ‘Admission’ has great ambition, but lack of focus and sloppy execution leaves it falling short. Luckily, with the help of its likeable leads, the lacklustre premise is hoisted into something modestly entertaining.