Dec 2, 2013

[Movies] Admission (2013)

Tina Fey's post-SNL movie career has been a little lackluster. While she has continued to shine on television, I've yet to find a Tina Fey movie (with her in the lead) as being particularly great. Sure, she makes for an amazing cameo actress (like in Mean Girls), but on her own she doesn't seem to be all that overwhelming.

Perhaps it's because she has always been more of the "straight man" from a traditional comedy perspective. She's stll a decent comedian on her own but she shines a heck of a lot more in contrast with somewhat zanier comedians like her longtime TV partner Amy Poehler and a lot of the personalities on her show, 30 Rock.

On her own, she tends to be a little drab or perhaps a tad too serious. This movie certainly tried to capitalize on that given it's comedy-drama mix to things, but I'm not quite sure if it achieved what it had intended to do. Admission is a decent enough movie, but I think the folks behind it weren't entirely sure how to market it.

Synopsis: Admission is a 2013 comedy drama movie (with some romantic leanings but I won't call it a romantic comedy) directed by Paul Weitz with a screenplay by Karen Croner. The story was adapted from a novel of the same name written by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is an extremely diligent and rather by-the-book admissions officer for Princeton University. Her boss Clarence (Wallace Shawn) intends to retire soon and Portia finds herself competing with Corinne (Gloria Reuben) for the possible promotion. At the same time, Portia finally gives in to the pestering of college friend John Pressman (Paul Rudd) and pays a visit to the alternative high school that he helps run and teaches at. Her typical presentation regarding the value of applying at Princeton doesn't go quite as planned when she is surprised by the rather strong views the students have against schools like Princeton.

There is one student who is actually interested in applying - and this is Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). John tells Portia about just how gifted he is and how much potential he has despite his horrible academic record before he transferred to the school. He's not what Portia would typically consider to be "Princeton material" but John continues to insist that she find a way to consider his application. With a potential romance brewing and the revelation that John believes young Jeremiah may in fact be the son she had given up for adoption years ago complicate her efforts to remain impartial in evaluating his case.

The poster of this movie sort of implies that it's meant to be a romantic comedy. You have the two lead characters in a rather tight shot together. You have the witty caption that talks about her need to let someone past her guard. You have the playful use of the DENY stamp. And while there was a romantic angle to this movie to a limited degree, it wasn't exactly the focus. If anything, this was one long emotional journey for Portia as a character and everyone else was incidental background noise.

Tina Fey is an entertaining actress. Paul Rudd is still rather charming in a dorky way - something he's never fully been able to shake off since Clueless or thereabouts. But the two together aren't exactly amazing and the lackluster story didn't help either. I don't understand how the characters went from meeting up again after college to getting romantically involved. I just didn't quite see the full progression and thus their getting together didn't feel all that reasonable a result.

One major scene stealer was definitely Lily Tomlin, who portrays Portia's mother. Her rather pragmatic view of the world and the need to play up to the stereotype that she's somewhat jaded with the world having had to raise a daughter alone. Cue feminist leanings and all that jazz. But despite the somewhat cliched nature of her character, it's a role that she performs very well and thus she has some of the better parts of the movie.

Wallace Shawn only really plays one role in all of his acting engagements. I just need to state that.

The best thing about the movie is probably the title, and I suppose that's something we can attribute to the original book that inspired the movie. Beyond her job with Princeton, there's a fair number of admissions that take place over the course of the movie and this was certainly a good thing. It added a nice mature angle to the plot that tends to come with books as source material although it may have hampered some of the comedic efforts.

It was never really clear to me what direction  the movie wanted to take overall. Did they really want to push the comedy with some drama on the side to balance things or did they want a full drama with comedic elements involved to give it that art film feel? It's never an easy balance to strike and far too many movies these days try to have it all. In the end it all felt a little confusing and not all that compelling.

Admission is decent enough, but certainly not a great showcase of Tina Fey, Paul Rudd or even Lily Tomlin despite a few great scenes. It lacked focus and clear direction for tone and in the end just sort of ended on a whimper because of it. Thus the movie can only rate 3 traumatizing stories of Portia's mother's youth out of a possible 5.

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