MRR Movie Review: "Admission"

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Straight-laced Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is caught off-guard when she makes a recruiting visit to an alternative high school overseen by her former college classmate, the free-wheeling John Pressman (Paul Rudd). Pressman has surmised that Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), his gifted yet very unconventional student, might well be the son that Portia secretly gave up for adoption many years ago. Soon, Portia finds herself bending the rules for Jeremiah, putting at risk the life she thought she always wanted -- but in the process finding her way to a surprising and exhilarating life and romance she never dreamed of having.
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Movie Review: "Admission"

 

Rating: PG-13 (language, some sexual material)

Length: 107 minutes

Release Date: March 22, 2013

Directed by: Paul Weitz

Genre: Comedy

 

Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton University who seems, on the surface, to have her life together. She has held down her job for fifteen years and has a steady boyfriend in literature professor Mark (Michael Sheen). Of course, the way things appear doesn't always tell the true story of what is really going on in a person's life. "Admission" is the story of what lies just beneath the surface for Portia-and how all of it will eventually bubble to the top.

 

It all begins when the Dean of Admissions, Clarence (Wallace Shawn), announces that he'll be retiring soon and wishes to promote his replacement from within. Portia immediately decides she wants the job, as does Corinne (Gloria Reuben), an adversarial coworker with whom Portia has a very frosty relationship. Speaking of frosty, Portia goes home each night to Mark, who can't be bothered to show any amount of passion for his girlfriend, instead giving her a chaste kiss on the forehead every night. Since she was raised to be emotionally independent from men by her feminist mom Susannah (Lily Tomlin), Portia tells herself that it's perfectly fine if she can't seem to connect with Mark in a meaningful way.

 

Her life is upended when she is persuaded by old college chum John Pressman (Paul Rudd) to come out to New England to see the alternative high school that he runs on a farm. Since she's trying to impress Clarence by thinking outside of the box, she agrees to go on the recruiting trip without knowing that John has ulterior motives. He has one particular student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) who is brilliant but gets bad grades in school, which has greatly diminished his chances of getting into an Ivy League university. Maybe more intriguingly, he may also be the child that Portia gave up for adoption years before, a revelation that rocks Portia's world. As she is dealing with possible motherhood and a growing attraction to John, she is also recovering from finding out that cold fish Mark impregnated another woman-after he'd told Portia that he never wanted children. It is an emotional firestorm that will change her life forever, no matter what decisions she makes about John, Jeremiah, and her future.

 

"Admission" is as much a drama as it is a comedy, which may surprise fans of Fey and Rudd, both of whom are widely known for getting laughs. The film allows them to stretch their acting wings and try something different, and it delivers the audience a great payoff, as they both clearly have the acting chops to pull off the more dramatic elements. Despite the drama, both have ample chances to display their knacks for all things funny, including some hilarious physical comedy scenes. The mix of genres is nicely balanced by screenwriter Karen Croner, who based the script on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

 

Fey and Rudd display the type of chemistry that fans had hoped they would have in the film. Their characters are instantly attracted to each other, which is evident from their body language and the sometimes terrible decisions they make as a result of that connection. Rudd in particular steps out of his usual role to play a charmingly aggressive suitor who isn't scared off by Portia's many demons. 

 

Another bright spot in the film is Tomlin, who is pure joy as Portia's acid-tongued mother-who may have had a hand in Portia's inability to truly connect emotionally with the people around her. Even though she's set her daughter up for emotional failure, someone as hilariously outspoken as Susannah is a deeply lovable and memorable character. It would've been nice to see the role fleshed out to give Susannah more screen time, but Tomlin does wonders with the small amount she has. Young actors should take note from this seasoned veteran about how to nearly steal the movie with a just a supporting role.

 

Director Paul Weitz knows a thing or two about screwball comedies, having been at the helm of the raunchy "American Pie" and serving as a producer for the sequels. He also knows about high drama, since he directed the critically acclaimed "About a Boy." In "Admission," he manages to meld the two types into a hybrid that is funny, heartwarming, and even a little sad at times. The finished product makes for a highly entertaining film that is worth the price of admission-pun intended. 

 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars