Towards the end of Admission, an English professor describes a performance he had just witnessed as, “Weird…but I liked it.” The same can be said about the film, Admission. While it’s probably not the movie you expected to see, it inspires some genuine curiosity as it moves along.
Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton University. Daily, Portia avoids the wonton glare of prospective students who seek the secret to “getting in.” She spends most of her time weeding through application files with the hefty task of personally deciding which students are admitted and which students are denied. It’s a cute premise, but hardly one that can keep a film narrative afloat for long. Enter Paul Rudd as John Pressman. Pressman runs an unorthodox school that would rarely attract the attention of the likes of Princeton, except Pressman believes one of his students could be the son Portia gave up years ago. This news arrives precisely at the time when Portia finds out her boyfriend (Michael Sheen) has impregnated another woman and is leaving her. To make matters more stressful, Portia learns that the Dean of Admissions (Wallace Shawn) is retiring and is considering either Portia or her rival admissions officer Corinne (Gloria Reuben) as his replacement.
These complications allow Admission to explore some more interesting territory. The movie does have a bit of an uneven tone, however. On one hand, there is Rudd and Fey, two comedic talents working hard to downplay their goofy personas into something more serious, with mixed results. On the other hand, there is a drama trying to downplay its serious tone for something more comedic and romantic, with mixed results. What we end up with is something, for lack of a better term, “weird.” Lilly Tomlin works very well as Portia’s mother who raised her with tough love, but perhaps too tough, and it is charming to see a film bold enough to partially set its climax in an Office of Admissions meeting. However, the film does try to bite off a bit more than it can chew, especially in its commentary on how to live one’s life. Portia is constantly berated throughout the film for enjoying a simple life while Pressman is a firm believer that one should never stay too long in one place. Both philosophies are hollowed out and filled with stereotypes leaving director, Paul Weitz with little hope of giving the audience a satisfactory answer.
Admission is a surprisingly odd movie. It takes a few risks with its tone, style, and story, and not all of them pay off, but overall, Admission is worth the price of admission. B