Apparently, nepotism is just fine so long as Tina Fey perpetuates it to the detriment of an institution that would give filming permission to a movie in which it’s basically the antagonist.
In Paul Weitz’s Admission, Tina Fey plays Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan. She’s got a long-term boyfriend she lives with (Michael Sheen) but they have no kids and she seems restless. When former classmate John Pressman (Paul Rudd) invites her to his alternative high school, he introduces her to a gifted student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). When Portia finds out Jeremiah may be her son, she risks her career to help get him into Princeton.
I never saw trailers for this movie, nor did I really know anything about it. But it has comedy actors in it and the DVD case bills it as a comedy. It’s really not a comedy. This happens a fair amount in Hollywood and so I just chalk it up to poor marketing and enjoy the movie for what it is. Unfortunately, Admission didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be.
The movie devotes most of its runtime to being an indie drama/romance. It doesn’t work terribly well, however, as the movie fails to generate enough of a connection between the characters and the audience; or the characters and each other, for that matter. Paul Rudd plays the character of John comfortably but the writing doesn’t pull through for him. The character bounces between from charismatic and charming to eccentric and quirky. It leaves a big disconnect for the audience to piece together.
Nat Wolff has a strong first scene as Jeremiah, establishing him as a socially awkward, brilliant but highly quirky teenager but from there he is all but reduced to the sidelines. There are a few scenes with him and Fey but they’re almost entirely reactionary on his part. Had the movie been focused on those two characters, it would have been much more enjoyable.
However, it was Fey’s character that took the reigns and left me wanting. Tina Fey’s performance is the standout of the movie and that’s ultimately its downfall. The script was focused on her character and not enough attention was giving to side characters and subplots. The character’s journey is still a little sloppy but Fey’s charm perseveres.
There are moments where Fey does something strange for comedy or drama’s sake but it falls flat and takes you out of the movie. In particular there’s a montage of her coming to grips with potentially being Jeremiah’s birth mother that is nearly cringe worthy in its forced attempt at humor. Her misguided attempt to comfort a crying baby by taking the kid directly out of the arms of its mother is just flat out bad writing.
In the interest of not spoiling the movie, I won’t go into detail about how Fey’s character deals with the ethics of trying to get Jeremiah into Princeton. But it is another point of contention I have with the movie. Her actions, while noble, make me question why I should really root for her to get the promotion she’s seeking or even keep her job in general.
The audience’s sympathy is played up by painting Princeton’s admissions standard as tyrannical but that only serves to make me wonder why Princeton would give their blessing to the movie (the real life dean of admissions has a cameo).
In the end, the plot takes some interesting, though predictable turns that make you wonder why characters didn’t take certain actions before making certain decisions. There are one or two well acted scenes between Fey’s character and her mother, but it’s not enough to save the drama side of Admission.
The movie is based on a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I haven’t read it, but I can only hope the plot unfolds better and the characters are more fleshed out in the source material.