Movie review: A lighter look at college admissions
March 22, 2013 8:00 AM
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in "Admission."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Taken at face value, "Admission" means an acceptance letter from Princeton University, where 26,000-plus applicants (and their parents) are desperate for one of the 1,308 golden tickets.
As a movie title, though, it also means admitting to actions that have remained a secret for nearly two or four decades or acknowledging that maybe father doesn't always know best when it comes to family decisions.
Tina Fey, whose remarkable roll continues after the conclusion of "30 Rock" and her Golden Globes co-hosting gig, stars as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton, in this dramedy directed by Paul Weitz ("About a Boy").
She travels to high schools to talk to prospective applicants, wades through stacks of submissions -- essays, test scores, recommendations, alumni appraisals -- and is a voting member of the committee that accepts, denies or wait-lists seniors.
For the past decade, she has shared a home and orderly life with her English professor boyfriend, Mark (Michael Sheen in nerdy glasses, beard and curly hair). But in one fell swoop, her personal planet is knocked out of orbit.
She visits an alternative high school where she meets seniors who challenge her stump speech along with teacher John Pressman (Paul Rudd, at his most adorable), whose life can be summed up this way: "A single dad traveling the world with his kid doing good."
He thinks he's doing the right thing in introducing Portia to a brilliant oddball, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who might have a hidden connection to her.
That along with other unexpected turns at home, in the office and with her fiercely feminist mother (Lily Tomlin, with a faux Bella Abzug tattoo) churn and turn her life upside down.
Screenwriter Karen Croner, adapting the 2009 Jean Hanff Korelitz novel of the same name, is like a poker player who lands a couple of aces late in the game. When she and the director play them, you see that "Admission" doesn't go exactly as you expected, always a good thing.
Most of the darker, more serious elements of the book have been jettisoned in favor of lighter moments, including the committee meetings where an (imaginary) student who is denied acceptance disappears through a trapdoor.
Minimized are the fictitious essays that start each chapter in ways woeful, poignant or painful, as with this one: "Wistful leaves fluttered over me as I sat overlooking the azure Pacific ocean and pondered the great gift I had been given the first time I was inspired to write a poem." Shudder.
The novelist, whose husband is a Princeton poetry professor, was a part-time reader for Princeton's Office of Admission during the 2006 and 2007 admissions seasons (her personal grievances: misuse of "myriad" and "everyday"). She understands the lengths some parents will go to for an Ivy League acceptance and channels that through Portia.
"Admission," tilting more toward comedy than drama on screen, is amusing, smart, timely and rooted in real life where reach schools, match schools, safety schools, early decisions and wait lists are no joke -- normally.