Tina Fey as Portia Nathan
Paul Rudd as John Pressman
Nat Wolff as Jeremiah Balakian
Travaris Spears as Nelson
Michael Sheen as Mark
Wallace Shawn as Clarence
Sonya Walger as Helen
Gloria Reuben as Corinne
Tina Benko as Andrea
Brian d’Arcy James
Michael Genadry as Ben
Directed by Paul Weitz
Portia Nathan works in admissions at Princeton University, a school that’s notoriously tough to get into, and she’s preparing for a particularly busy application period when she gets a call from John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a teacher at a new agey school in New Hampshire, hoping to introduce her to an exceptional 18-year-old student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) who wants to apply to Princeton. He also drops the bomb that Jeremiah is the baby she gave up in high school, putting her in a position where she has to do questionable things to help this unlikely Princeton candidate.
Anyone who’s attended college will know the often stressful admissions process and what it takes to get into their chosen school, but imagine being on the other side of the stack of transcripts and essays submitted to some of the top ivy schools. That’s the premise for “Admission,” a cutesy romantic comedy set within the halls of Princeton University, one of the country’s most exclusive schools, as seen through the eyes of Portia Nathan, another memorable Tina Fey character.
It actually may take some time before you can separate Portia from Fey’s better-known character Liz Lemon because they have so much in common – generally hard-working, somewhat awkward with kids and both in a less than perfect relationship with Michael Sheen as their boyfriend. But Portia has a lot going on with her job and we meet her just before things start to fall apart as that live-in boyfriend dumps her and she faces an over-competitive co-worker who wants the same promotion that Portia is vying for.
At times, its hard to believe that “Admission” was based on a novel, because it seems like one of those ideas that had to come from a screenwriter made specifically for the screen. The originality of the film’s setting isn’t the problem, but the way the movie plays out using rom-com tropes tends to make it fairly obvious and predictable at first as we get a lot of meet cute moments between Fey and Rudd.
This is a role that’s perfectly tailored for Fey’s talents as she delivers every line with the type of confidence that immediately makes the character and her situations credible even as things start falling apart once she meets John and finds out about her teenage son. I was equally impressed by Disney Channel star Nat Wolff as Jeremiah, who holds his own in his scenes with Fey, leaving Paul Rudd as the primary member of the cast who doesn’t require much heavy lifting even as his natural charm brings as much to his character as Fey’s comic timing brings towards portraying Portia.
Paul Weitz has proven himself to be the master of the dramatic comedy, capable of doing light mainstream comedy without losing sight of human emotions, and hes definitely working more in his comfort zone with this material and a strong script from Karen Croner. Knowing the abilities of his cast, he has plenty of opportunities to shoot and score with the laughs by letting them do their thing, but sometimes its just as much about choosing the right song to bring additional emotion to some of the more dramatic scenes.
At times it feels like the movie is trying to get more mileage by squeezing in too many characters, ideas and subplots including Lily Tomlin as Portia’s cynical militant feminist mother and John’s adopted Ugandan son Nelson, both who bring some funny moments, but at the same time introducing a few too many tangents from the main story. But the casting really works, including Wallace Shawn as Portias boss at Princeton and Gloria Reuben as her competition, also both bringing a lot to the mix.
All the various stories converge into a third act that successfully pulls it all together even as it starts to get fairly dark, maybe even surprisingly so considering how long its coasted along on rom-com clichés. One of the third act high points is the meeting of the Princeton admissions board to make a final decision on that year’s applicants as Portia makes one last plea for Jeremiah’s cause and the denied students fall through a trapdoor, one of the many dark but funny moments.
The Bottom Line:
“Admission” as a romantic comedy may take some time to warm up to as it continually tries to rise above its genre – the fact that it eventually does so can be fully attributed to Paul Weitz’s knack for this type of material and the brilliant pairing of Tina Fey with Paul Rudd.