Dir: Paul Weitz. US. 2013. 106mins
A terrifically fresh narrative backdrop and the often delightful interplay of two timing-savvy comedians, Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, help give wings to director Paul Weitz’s Admission, an airy and engaging adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel of the same name. Evincing a pleasant yet not too demanding sense of depth, this comedy of midlife awakening digs into issues of loss and love but in an ultimately comforting manner, resulting in a crowd-pleasing film that should connect heartily with slightly more adult audiences.
Fey has a deft touch with smart, capable women somewhat imprisoned by the parameters of their well-ordered white-collar lives; in her film roles and work as a writer-producer-star on television’s 30 Rock, she has winningly and articulately embodied the have-it-all hesitance of modern woman, which she again does here.
Fey’s Baby Mama did $60 million domestically in 2008, while 2010’s Date Night pulled in just under $100 million Stateside. Admission lacks those film’s hook-y premises, but coming on the heels of Fey’s well received stint co-hosting the Golden Globes, as well as co-starring another well known comedic talent, the movie would seem well positioned for solid returns. Strong word-of-mouth amongst particularly female moviegoers should give Admission strong staying power beyond its March 22 opening weekend if distributor Focus Features sticks with it, even though international box office looks to be cut into by The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
PrincetonUniversity admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey) lives a tidy and disciplined life of New England academia, but when her longtime partner of many years Mark (Michael Sheen) leaves her, it throws her for a loop. This coincides with a trip to New Quest, an alternative high school run by the highly idealistic John Pressman (Rudd, working in winsome, self-effacing mode).
The single father of a precocious adopted son, Nelson (Travaris Spears), John introduces Portia to his star pupil, Jeremiah Balakian (Nat Wolff), a bright kid whose prodigy-level talents haven’t translated into the typically well-polished high school résumé, and eventually makes a confession — based on some digging, John thinks Jeremiah could be the son that Portia gave up for adoption long ago. Caught up between competing with workplace rival Corinne (Gloria Reuben) for the affirmation of their soon-to-be-retiring boss Clarence (Wallace Shawn) and advocating for darkhorse candidate Jeremiah’s admission to Princeton, Portia finds herself attracted to John and generally questioning the direction of her life.
In seriocomic films like About a Boy, In Good Company and Being Flynn, Weitz has tapped into familial rediscovery via stories of adrift protagonists who either or feel outright that they don’t have anything to offer emotionally. Admission slots comfortably in this canon, as a loose-limbed movie whose nominal sins are of omission rather than commission.
Screenwriter Karen Croner (One True Thing) allows the film’s humor to emerge fairly naturally from the characters — in particular the protracted meet-cute between Portia and John. Though broadly true to the book’s tone of charged ambivalence, Croner’s adaptation does make one leavening change, which seems a concession to convention.
The other slip-up is the harried quality with which Admission is shot through, which feels like a too-easy surrendering to the casting of Fey. As with Jim Carrey’s early forays into more dramatic terrain, this could easily have been Fey’s The Truman Show, if only the filmmakers would allow for a more decisive pivot.
Instead, Admission is content to bop along, in not unpleasant but not always quite discriminating fashion. In particular the material with Mark, which is of dubious emotional heft, could be jettisoned or handled more expeditiously, to make way for further exploration of the fractured relationship between the ever-exasperated Portia and her semi-estranged mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin), who peppers her daughter with punchy advice like, “It’s not healthy to need other people too much.”
Fey has a deft touch with smart, capable women somewhat imprisoned by the parameters of their well-ordered white-collar lives; in her film roles and work as a writer-producer-star on television’s 30 Rock, she has winningly and articulately embodied the have-it-all hesitance of modern woman, which she again does here. Her chemistry with Rudd is sharp, giving Admission many of its finest moments. Wolff and young Spears, meanwhile, also deliver capable performances.
Production companies: Depth of Field Productions
Domestic distribution: Focus Features
Producers: Paul Weitz, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, Andrew Miano
Executive producer: Caroline Baron
Co-producer: Dan Balgoyen
Screenplay: Karen Croner, based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Cinematography: Declan Quinn
Editor: Joan Sobel
Production designer: Sarah Knowles
Music: Stephen Trask
Main cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben, Travaris Spears