Directed by Paul Weitz.
2013. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Christopher Evan Welch
Portia Nathan (Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton University. She has had this job for sixteen year. She's also been with her boyfriend Mark (Sheen) for ten years. Her life is wholly predictable, the way she likes it. Things change when she's contacted by John Pressman (Rudd). He is the director of the Quest School, a newly formed school about to have its first graduating class. He asks her to come and speak to them about Princeton. She only agrees because her boss is extremely interested in drumming up enough applications to put them back into the nation's top spot in the category of most applied to school. They have fallen out of first place for the first time in a number of years. Let's pause right here. If this is what they're really worried about at Princeton they're even more out of touch than I thought. Anyhoo, John introduces Portia to the extremely intelligent, but academically challenged Jeremiah (Wolff). Her life is sent spiraling out of control by these events which happen in fairly rapid succession. She also finds herself attracted to John who tells her that Jeremiah might be her son. Finally, Mark leaves Portia for Helen (Walger), the world's foremost authority on Virginia Woolf. Wackiness ensues.
Actually, I should say attempted wackiness ensues. Most of the humor falls completely flat. Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, in my estimation, both function best when they have a lively, possibly insane person to react to. This is how they induce laughter. It's what made Fey so good working with Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, and even Amy Poehler. Rudd is downright brilliant when sharing the screen with Seth Rogen. With just Fey and Rudd together, we have two people playing it straight and waiting for the other to give them something to bring out their own comedic talents. To use a football analogy, it's like two gifted wide-receivers on a team with no quarterback to throw them the ball. Whatever skills they might have are wasted. Occasionally, Rudd tries to step into that role but he is woefully inadequate. It's not that his acting is bad, because it's not. The problem is both he and Fey are too earnest in their portrayals. Remember, that's what they do. Therefore, things meant to be hilarious, such as Rudd delivering a calf or Fey vomiting in front of a frat house come across as misguided, possibly pathetic, and at least a little bit askew, but rarely funny. That's sort of a problem for a comedy. On the other hand, the movie absolutely sizzles during the few short instances Portia's mom Susannah (Tomlin) is on the screen. She has the right kind of energy and plays it just enough over the top for our stars' natural ability to shine through. The movie works similarly whenever Michael Sheen appears, also. Unfortunately, this serves to highlight the shortcomings of our heroes.
With the possibility for laughter greatly diminished, we're forced to adjust mid-stream to watching a drama with a few funny moments. As such, the story is vaguely interesting, but not one with which we're totally enraptured. What's coming is too easily seen to really intrigue us. We know how it's going to work out between our two leads. We also know we're headed for Portia's impassioned plea to Jeremiah into Princeton. To the movie's credit, this is still a very effective scene, played marvelously by Fey. The one curveball in the whole picture is where our heroine ends up. Though it is presented as if she's in a better place than when we started, it doesn't completely feel that way. She seems strangely content with her new-found incompleteness and dependence upon others.
Admission is a film with its heart in the right place. Sadly, it fails on nearly every level in its execution. It tries to strike a comedic tone, but isn't close to being funny enough. The drama isn't dramatic enough to take up the slack. This renders it forgettable. I'm including the people on the screen in that assessment. The only memorable character, Portia's mom and John's adopted son Nelson (Spears), are minor to the production and go long stretches without appearing. The leads are simply giving us more of the same characters they've been playing for much of their careers. The end result of all this is that the movie just drones on and on and on for its entire run time. In other words, its 107 minutes feel like they are multiplying as they slowly pass.
MY SCORE: 4/10