Paul Weitz’ “Admission” could have been a really good, genuine comedy/drama about motherhood and parenting. It stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, two actors capable of doing intelligent as well as authentic comedy. Unfortunately they are let down by the movie, which goes down the conventional, contrived and broad romantic comedy path.
Fey plays Portia Nathan who’s set up in typical rom-com fashion. She is an admissions officer for the prestigious Princeton University. She lives a simple and boring life. Determined and hardworking but also works too much. She’s rigid and also bitter when it comes to children. She’s been at her same job for sixteen years and for good reason. Admissions officers (especially from high-falutin schools like Princeton) need to be tough and not get emotionally attached to applicants.
Rudd plays John Pressman, a nice guy who runs a developmental high school and wants Portia to come and check it out. Paul Rudd is all about living in the moment and making spontaneous decisions. He likes to help people (he travels around the world doing things like building wells in Africa) and has an adopted Ugandan son.
So, here we have two ideal rom-com protagonists, both with great qualities and also flaws. It’s only a matter of time before they do their little dance and eventually fall in love, right? But then comes Jeremiah (Nat Wolfe) a student from John’s school. John thinks he has potential to go to Princeton, but Jeremiah doesn’t fit the black and white definition of Princeton material. He’s incredibly smart and well read but is also weird and doesn’t have a great transcript. To thicken the plot, there’s a possibility that Jeremiah could be Portia’s son (we find out that she gave up a baby when she was a teenager) and her whole world gets turned upside down.
Now, despite the cliché-ness of that last sentence the movie—with the addition of the Jeremiah character—if handled seriously could have lifted the “Admission” out of its rom-com setup and inevitable finish. And there are moments, brief flashes, where Weitz and screenwriter Karen Croner (it’s based on a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz) try to do that, like in a scene where Portia goes to a college party (where she sticks waaay out) to “check up on” Jeremiah, who doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s a funny moment but also feels really honest and sincere, it’s not just a typical rom-com type scene.
And there are other genuine and funny moments like that sprinkled throughout. But, for the most part we get these utterly lame, artificial attempts at broad comedy, like in a scene where Portia and John get covered in cow placenta (don’t ask). It’s like Weitz and co. are so worried they’ll lose the audience if they don’t throw in a joke every two minutes. They’re simply trying too hard to be funny.
Fey is sadly hit and miss. She actually handles the serious stuff rather well and has her moments comically; she’s especially good at creating embarrassing situations for herself or being in situations where she tries to do the right thing but ends up making it worse. But then, you see her in the scenes like the cow placenta scene and think to yourself: ‘Tina, you’re better than this, why are you subjecting yourself to this lazy nonsense?” Rudd on the other hand is just…bland. I mean he’s likable, as always, and like Fey he handles some of the serious stuff fairly well, but overall the script doesn’t give him a lot to do comedy wise.
Pretty soon all hope is lost, as “Admission” settles into rom-com movie autopilot and is doomed. The third act is languorous and contrived. A sort of plot twist involving Jeremiah comes too late to make any sort of impact, Weitz and Croner go for the typical “I never want to see you again” moment between Portia and John, which is followed by the protagonists looking glum as melancholy guitar music plays over the soundtrack. And then comes the forced, thrown together ending that you could have called right from the start. “Admission” had potential, but ultimately it’s a disappointment.