It’s incredibly hard to get excited about a film like Admission. Two immensely (and effortlessly) likable leads aside, Paul Weitz’s film is crushingly bland, and that carries a particular irony given that it revolves around a process which places a great deal of importance on standing out.
Tina Fey plays an Admissions Officer at Princeton University, meaning that she spends her life passing judgment on prospective pupils battling for places at an institution that accepts less than five percent of applicants. The intentional irony here is that the majority of the students that she’s denying have their lives more together than she does. Her relationship with her mother is strained, her feckless long-term partner (played with aplomb by Michael Sheen) leaves her for another woman, and then John Pressman (Paul Rudd) comes into her life with a revelation that well and truly rocks it.
In a strained contrivance, it turns out that a child at the alternative school Rudd teaches at may be the child who years earlier Fey’s Portia Nathan gave up for adoption. That child also happens to be somewhat of a prodigy, and his dream is to attend Princeton despite not having the kind of background that would make him a likely candidate for acceptance. Lucky then that Portia has the influence and the know-how to maybe make her maybe son’s academic dreams come true.
Tina Fey’s going to be able to appear on the big screen a lot more frequently now that she’s finally finished with 30 Rock, but she’s also going to have to make sure that she doesn’t simply pick projects just to fill that time. There’s certainly nothing in Admission’s script worthy of her talents, nor equal to her own considerable talents as a comedic screenwriter. The film’s very lucky it has her, though, as in a less safe pair of hands the character would in all likelihood be unbearable. Fey keeps you invested as the Portia dithers interminably, before finally making some unpleasant decisions. The same could be said for Rudd’s character, who must be far less charismatic on the page, but Rudd keeps him just about watchable and strikes up some decent chemistry with Fey.
The two leads are both fantastic without having to push themselves, and when the film focuses on the relationship between the pair it’s at least pleasantly inoffensive. But the potentially interesting strand of Admission isn’t the romance; it’s the exploration of an educational system that’s presented as inherently flawed. Parallels are raised with the British system at one point, but are then swiftly forgotten, and Weitz seems less interested in exploring the issue than he is in using it as a device to prop up the rest of the story.
Given two options, Admission routinely takes the less interesting of the two, and wastes a great deal of on-screen talent in the process.