Director: Paul Weitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 5.5/10
“Want to know the secret to getting in?” Chirps Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) with unsettling enthusiasm, “Well, take out your pens!” That’s how the workaholic, sex-deprived Princeton admissions officer has been starting her prospective student presentations for the past sixteen years. And it’s been working. That is, until old college friend John Pressman (Paul Rudd) invites her to speak at his alternative school (read: woodland hippie compound) full of new age hipsters who would chain themselves to a Redwood before taking out a pen for a promoter of “The System.” That’s fine. “Never get emotionally connected to the applicants,” recites Portia, “Remember, it’s our job to turn them down.” Of course, Portia stumbles upon one special student at the school who actually wants to go to Princeton– and, as luck would have it, she also stumbles upon evidence that he might be the unknowing son she gave up for adoption years ago.
With a premise like that, Admission doesn’t sound like something you’d find in the romantic comedy genre. But what it lacks in passion and wit, it makes up for with a strong cast, likable characters, a steady pace, and a genuine soft comedy feel.
Lets begin with what wouldn’t get accepted – the romance. Even within almost two hours of run time, there are only a handful of scenes dedicated to the development of Rudd and Fey’s relationship, and while the talented Rudd and Fey do the best they can, their chemistry heats up to a low-simmer – at best.
The film’s lack of passion is apparent in more than just the romantic department. The writers took an overwhelmingly safe route for the number of unconventional elements in the film, probably making Admission the only Tina Fey flick you can watch comfortably with your grandma. As if the subject of today’s admissions system wasn’t laden with enough controversy, the script had subplots that could’ve questioned the modern schooling system, single parents, adoption, militant feminism – the list goes on – yet the writers let most of these subplots taper off. Obviously no one goes into a romantic comedy with the hopes of seeing Zero Dark Thirty, but since this film spent more time as a dramedy than a romcom (and since the writers had feminism and Tina Fey in the same place) it was disappointing to see them shy away from all that potential. In the end, it’s not that bad – you leave the theater feeling like you’ve seen something complete, whole, entertaining – and about as memorable as a Lifetime original movie.
Despite the soft writing, Fey and Rudd were able to work their magic and get enough laughs to keep this in the comedy genre, especially once Fey’s inner Liz Lemon is unleashed in the second act. Supporting roles made themselves known as well, with memorable characters such as Portia’s boob-less, rifle-wielding, Amazonian mother (Sonya Walger) and a horny poetics scholar who hates Virginia Woolf played by Rob Campbell. There’s someone relatable for everyone and a story that’s morally confused enough to feel real (or at least more convincing than other comedies in theaters right now, i.e. Identity Thief).
Overall, Admission isn’t the top of its class, but it’s got a decent resume. A strong cast keeps this not-so-romantic romcom from sinking too far into the contrived ‘meh’ that most romantic comedies slide into, but nothing stands out in making it memorable enough for acceptance. Definitely going on the wait (for DVD) list.