PLOT: Portia (Tina Fey) is a Princeton admissions officer with a well-ordered, quiet life. However, this peaceful- if unfulfilling existence is thrown into disarray when John (Paul Rudd)- a teacher at an alternative high school, walks into her life with the news that one of his students may be the son she put up for adoption eighteen years ago. Not only that, but the boy- Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), has his heart set on going to Princeton- despite a subpar academic record. What’s Portia to do?
REVIEW: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have to be two of the most likable, non-offensive actors in Hollywood. Given the fact that their careers has seen them working with so many of the same people- with their comic sensibilities seemingly in sync, it seems weird that the two of them haven’t worked together before. At their worst, both are fairly decent, while at their best- they can be brilliant.
ADMISSION, which comes from Paul Weitz- a director I’ve both loved (AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY, and the underrated IN GOOD COMPANY) and hated (LITTLE FOCKERS, AMERICAN DREAMZ), will never be mistaken for either Fey or Rudd’s best work. It’s about as generic as they come, despite it being released under the surprisingly sophisticated Focus Films banner. ADMISSION is like an eighties sitcom stretched out to feature-length- the kind of movie a TV star makes when their show is on hiatus (or in the case of Fey...over). It’s certainly too safe to be taken as satire- either of the Ivy Leagues like Princeton, or the ridiculous lengths people go to in order to gain admittance.
Ultimately, the fact that it’s set at Princeton becomes negligible, with the story centering more around Fey’s Portia as her life (gently) comes apart at the seams, so that she can discover what’s most important. Like I said, safe. I imagine Fey saw ADMISSION as a chance to stretch a bit, but despite not having a writing credit, it has her stamp all over it. Portia is almost a clone of Liz Lemon- just replace NBC with Princeton- and boom, you have ADMISSION. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was as funny as 30 ROCK, but it's not- so it seems like a pale imitation at best.
Fey’s chemistry with Paul Rudd isn’t bad- but like Fey, his part is too familiar. Here he plays a nearly saintly teacher at an alternative school, complete with an adopted son from Uganda (a scene-stealing Travaris Spears), and the desire to move to Ecuador to help the poor. Rudd’s so idealized that the only source of conflict for his character becomes whether he helps people too much, and it would have been interesting if, given the fact that he mainly serves as a foil and love interest for Fey, the part had been given some teeth. The closest we get is the occasional acerbic “Rudd-ism”, but he’s pretty reigned in.
Still- given their undeniable likability, ADMISSION never becomes a chore, even if it’s underwhelming. Again- it seems like ADMISSION was meant to be something more than a standard rom-com, given the Focus pedigree, and the surprisingly lengthy running time (just shy of two hours). A subplot with Lily Tomlin as Fey’s feminist author mother shows promise early on- but ultimately becomes as predictable as the rest of the film, although Tomlin is good.
Overall, ADMISSION isn’t bad- just bland. It’s definitely not up there with the best Fey and Rudd (not to mention director Weitz) are capable of, but for what it is, it's alright. In the eighties/nineties, this would have been one of those “wait for video” movies. I guess nowadays it qualifies as a “wait for Netflix” type of film. It’s passable, but it’s the kind of flick that immediately fades from memory once the credits roll.