Tina Fey in Admission.
Right off the bat, the idea of a romantic comedy about academic intrigue sounds neither romantic nor comedic. And while Admission boasts a great cast, the film’s predictable story arc and family-centred morality hold it back from full-on hilarity.
Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, a tight-laced Princeton admissions officer vying for a promotion when her boss (Wallace Shawn) retires. Fey meets John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a do-gooder who runs a rural alternative school where students learn critical thinking and skills for third-world development projects.
Rudd, who is inexplicably not my husband, aggressively campaigns for her help in getting one of his students, a brilliant but socially inept student named Ben (Michael Genadry), accepted, convinced that Fey is the boy’s biological mother. Meanwhile, he is alternately dismissive and affectionate with his own kid, an adopted African orphan.
The film’s set-up makes room to parody both the over-accomplished Ivy League hopefuls, including the lengths they and their parents will go to secure a spot at the prestigious school, as well as Rudd’s well-intended but ultimately misguided international development projects and his privileged self-righteousness. The movie is essentially a bunch of wealthy, attractive and intelligent people taking the piss out of wealthy, attractive and intelligent people for knowing that they’re so goddamned wealthy, attractive and intelligent.
While Fey and Rudd are in some ways a dream team (it’s surprising that they’d never been paired before), they completely lack on-stage heat, coming off more like the friends they actually are in real life than a new couple finding each other. Both of the principals very much have a schtick — Rudd’s dreamy nice guy and Fey’s loveable fuck-up — and they deviate so little from their usual roles that it kind of feels like you’ve already seen this dynamic before.
The jokes are still there, they’re just more restrained than in other work, and so are the laughs — there was precisely one audible guffaw throughout the entire movie — although, in all fairness, it was a press screening, and reviewers are a notoriously stone-faced audience. Too much of the humour rested on Fey’s self-depracation, but at least she takes it easy with the I’m-so-ugly jokes this round — I’m pretty sure that once you’ve covered Vogue, you forsake all claims to ugliness.
While overall Admission was pretty underwhelming, it did have its moments. Lily Tomlin shines as Fey’s mom, an aging anarcho-feminist with a nasty mouth and a bitchin’ tattoo. A scene where Rudd and Fey deliver a calf brings the surrealist moments more typical of her 30 Rock humour, and there was a cute running gag about the “Woolf bitch,” a Princeton Virginia Woolf scholar involved with Fey’s ex.
Over the course of the movie, the characters untangle a series of twisted geneaologies; ultimately, Admission is a morality tale about the importance of family. It’s like all the comedy stars hit their 40s and now they only want to make movies about how important parenthood is. SIGH. ■