‘Admission’ doesn’t meet the qualifications

Josh Carlton

I’d be hard to say that “Admission”, the new comedy/drama starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, didn’t have its moments.  While the two leads are always reliable, they can’t seem to rise above the material. There’s a good movie somewhere in here, but like a shaky applicant, the film’s GPA is kind of low.

The film focuses on Portia Nathan (Tina Fey), a dull, straight-laced Princeton admissions officer with kid issues. She is in a dead-end relationship with Mark (Michael Sheen), and has a destructive relationship with her mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin).

Enter John Pressman (Paul Rudd) a teacher at an unorthodox prep school that gives Portia a much-needed spark. He also gives Portia a wake up call when he reveals that a prodigy at his school, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) may be her son. Jeremiah also wants to attend Princeton (I smell a conflict of interest brewing!).

The plot is ultimately contrived into getting Portia and John to connect, but that’s not what bothered me. What bothered me was no one else had much to do. The supporting characters may have had something to say, but none of them are given a chance to speak. Despite Fey’s best effort, Portia’s journey never spoke to me. I was more interested in John’s adventurous life with his adopted son, Nelson (Travaris Spears), or even Jeremiah’s path to Princeton.

The film, based on a 2009 novel of the same name, has trouble translating from page to screen. A smooth transition is always desired when adapting, but Admission can’t shake the novel feel. That aside, the film also suffers from tonal issues. Adapted by Karen Croner, the script struggles to find the balance between funny and serious. Like most dramedies, the serious moments feel forced, making the funny bits fall flat. Director Paul Weitz (‘In Good Company,’ ‘Little Fockers’) can’t seem to find the balance either.

Despite the shortcomings, “Admission’s”heart was in the right place. You can tell that everyone involved believed in the story, which made the film easier to swallow, but the movie forgets what it’s really all about: the kids. In today’s tense economy, college isn’t the sure bet everyone used to think it was. The applicants that Portia and her colleagues deny have stories to tell; stories that could outweigh the shallow depth of Portia’s woes. For today’s younger generation, thinking about the future can be scary. Choosing the sensible path may not always be the right path. “Admission” tries to say that, but stumbles with a weak narrative. Go ahead and wait list this one.