Craig's Movie Breakdown: Admission
on 2013-03-20 10:50
Is there any surprise in a romantic comedy with a tagline like “let someone in”? I doubt it. But chances are you’re going to see “Admission” because you like Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. Fey is just finishing up her run on “30 Rock”, one of the best sitcoms of the past decade, and poised to take on a feature film career that already includes “Baby Mama” with Amy Poehler and “Date Night” with Steve Carell. Alec Baldwin also believes she could become the next Elaine May (tip: google Elaine May to figure out just how long it’s been since a woman has accomplished so much in comedy.) And Paul Rudd is the Judd Apatow staple, the “Role Model”, the slappa-da bass man..that you love. You could do worse.
The film is being directed by Paul Weitz, most famous for working with his brother Chris on 1999’s “American Pie” and 2002’s “About a Boy”, before both went on to solo careers. Chris became more marketable with “Twilight: New Moon” and then made prestige flick “A Better Life“. Paul on the other hand has had a string of duds from “American Dreamz” to last year’s “Being Flynn.” Karen Croner, taking on her first script since the 1998 Meryll Streep and Renee Zellweger cancer drama (always a good sign for a comedy!) “One True Thing”, adapts Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel.
Portia (Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton called to a new developmental school run by John Pressman (Rudd) to scout the best of the best for next year’s admission. Only what she does not expect is to meet Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), the (possible) kid she gave up for adoption many years ago, and he feels he has what it takes to get into Princeton. As Portia’s life falls apart after being dumped by her professor boyfriend (Michael Sheen), she tries everything possible to try to get him in.
You will find more laughs on an episode of the History Channel’s “The Bible. “Admission” is simply astonishing in the zero laughs it manages. There isn’t a joke, a comedy attempt (either physical, gross-out, anything), or even a performance here that suggests that anyone involved with it ever thought it was going to be funny. To watch it is to see some very funny people die a slow death. Depressingly, this movie will be a record of when these stars were at their absolute worst.
But lack of laughs is just part of the problem of this awful movie that also fails at coherence, focus, or any narrative drive. This thing wants to be a romantic comedy, wants to be anti- elitest colleges story, a story about a woman who’s life is falling apart, a story about a mother risking everything for her child, a story about how education and know-how should be more important than getting into the best schools, and also wants to touch on feminism. In time “Admission” becomes nothing. A non-existant romance, a mother-son reconciliation movie that oddly is never heartfelt because Portia spends more time scheming and risking her job than actually getting to know the kid, and an education movie that ends up saying nothing new on the subject. There’s never really any conflict here and the resolution is easy.
Sitting through this movie on the other hand is not. Weitz’s direction is abysmally lifeless and erratic, a scene where Rudd must deliver a baby cow standing as the biggest example of missed comedy opportunities and when you have terrible jokes like, when a character learns that Princeton has been ranked number 2, he says “2 is good too.” I swear that’s one of the better one-liners I could find here.
And why take one of the best comic actresses and saddle her with such a miserable sad-sac? Fey is here to react to the people around her, whether it’s the pretentious Sheen, her do-it-yourself feminist mother (Lily Tomlin) who casually describes her double mastectomy and her tryst with a stranger on the train (“I knew I needed the sperm, not him.”), and equally uppity staff at Princeton and she just seems to glumly tolerate these people. It’s Liz Lemon without the wit or self-deprecating sense of humor. Rudd is equally not his usual chipper self either. He’s in the film far less than one would imagine and he’s just some random do-gooder here, adopting kids from Uganda, being more mentor than professor, and flying around the world doing good works. The role could have been funny but it’s poorly written and he plays it without quirks and just seems to be phoning it in.
“Admission” is just all wrong, an unfunny and wasteful thing to have to sit through, an Ivy-league comedy that has even less chance of making you laugh than Harvard does at winning the NCAA tournament. Here’s hoping that Tina Fey’s post-30 Rock career can withstand this and we can get our funny lady back some time real soon.