‘Admission’ blindsides funny lady Tina Fey
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:53AM
With “30 Rock” off the air, legions of Liz Lemon fans are undoubtedly primed for a Tina Fey fix, but they’re likely to be a little disappointed by the mismatched moods and modest laughs in this so-so romantic dramedy.
Directed by Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “In Good Company”) in a style that’s most reminiscent of his sentimental comedy “About a Boy,” “Admission” tries to mix a complementary blend of mild humor, heartfelt romance and soul-searching drama. Unfortunately, those divergent elements wind up feeling mutually exclusive.
That’s not the fault of Fey, or Paul Rudd, or Lily Tomlin, or Wallace Shawn or anyone else in the generally likeable cast — and Weitz does his usual capable job moving things along. The real problem seems to be the double dose of the ridiculously intense dramatic upheaval that suddenly confronts our heroine as she is simultaneously required to generate yuks and navigate an odd-couple romantic relationship.
Fey plays Portia Nathan, a workaholic, child-phobic, control freak who is a veteran admissions officer at Princeton University. Portia’s personal life might not be much — she has a less-than-ardent live-in boyfriend (Michael Sheen) and a disapproving feminist-icon mother (Tomlin) — but she clearly enjoys her work. Which basically amounts to screening 20,000 annual Princeton applicants and rejecting 19,000 of them. In fact, she’s increased her workload to compete with her arch-rival (Gloria Reuben) for the Dean of Admissions job that’s soon to be vacated by their boss (Shawn).
It’s at that stressful moment that John Pressman (Rudd) makes his appearance as an old college classmate who’s now a teacher at an alternative school that’s a highly unlikely springboard to the Ivy League. John has a special student he wants her to meet — an extremely intelligent autodidact named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) who has a history of low grades but perfect test scores. Then John drops his double-bombshell: He believes Nat is the child Portia secretly gave up for adoption in college and, oh, by the way, he wants to go to Princeton. Anything you can do?
Contending with this major moral dilemma causes the tightly wound Portia to unravel as she attempts to pull strings for Nat on the inside in a way that jeopardizes her career. And though there’s nothing wrong with the way that’s handled it stands in ongoing awkward contrast with the film’s light comic touches (such as Portia imagining encounters with the over-achieving students whose files she is reading) and its mandated romance.
That doesn’t mean “Admission” isn’t worth watching. It only means that it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. If it were a prospective college student, it wouldn’t be Princeton material.