By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Admission is about the competition for the right to pay tuition.
Set in academia, this sort-of-romantic comedy about a midlife crisis is also a peek behind the curtain of the highly competitive, wizard-of-odds world of college admissions. Especially in, say, the Ivy League.
Tina Fey stars as Portia Nathan, an efficient, by-the-book admissions officer at Princeton up for a major promotion to Dean of Admissions who’s informed by an old college classmate, John Pressman, played by Paul Rudd, that a prospective Princeton undergraduate attending New Quest, the alternative high school he runs, is the son she gave up for adoption eighteen years ago.
Of course, at this point Portia really should recuse herself from the application and decision process, given that it’s her son who is applying. But, suddenly, the rules Portia has always lived and worked by seem bendable if not downright breakable.
What’s a mom to do? Plenty.
The convoluted, coincidence-prone screenplay by Karen Croner and Aline Brosh McKenna, based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel, has too many shaky plot points and questionable moves by the protagonist that test our suspension of disbelief. Behaviors that might have passed muster on the novel page don’t do so here and instead make the film feel over-plotted. Or perhaps it’s director Paul Weitz (Little Fockers, About a Boy, In Good Company, Being Flynn) who fails to keep the level of verisimilitude on a high plain.
Whatever the reason, this otherwise smart and literate script about ethical compromise and unqualified parental love – like a characteristically overachieving student who had a bad semester or two along the way — has lapses that keep it from being accepted as it forces the central character to do things that betray and contradict without convincing.
Don’t blame the cast, which includes Lily Tomlin as Portia’s feminist-author mom; Nat Wolff as the unconventional, autodidactic, prospective Princeton student; Michael Sheen as Portia’s ex-live-in boyfriend, a Princeton professor; Wallace Shawn as the retiring Dean of Admissions; and Gloria Reuben as Portia’s rival for the open Dean position.
As for the romcom elements, Fey and Rudd have a minimum of romantic chemistry, which doesn’t exactly hurt the movie’s examination of the academic world. But it doesn’t help the audience’s rooting interest either. And neither of these appealing screen personalities is able to overcome and finesse the limitations (his case) or contradictions (her case) of their characters as written.
So we’ll apply to 2 stars out of 4 for a serio-comedy that is ultimately, like the main character, wound too tight. Let your fondness for Tina Fey help you decide whether or not it’s nonetheless worth the price of Admission.