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Review: Admission (2013)

Admission (2013)

Directed by: Paul Weitz

Premise: An adaptation of the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz. A Princeton admissions officer (Tina Fey) discovers a student at an alternative school who might be the son she put up for adoption. While working with the student on his application, she falls for the school administrator (Paul Rudd).

What Works: Admission is at its best when it lampoons higher education. The college experience is rarely portrayed with any accuracy in American cinema and the better moments of this film will be amusing to viewers who have been through the application process or who have worked on a college campus. There is a subversive quality to this story, one that is frustratingly muted by the various subplots, but the traces of that rebellious streak are a large part of what makes Admission watchable if not entirely satisfying. Director Paul Weitz employs some interesting cinematic choices, especially in the board room scene in which the admissions staff makes their acceptance decisions, and this momentarily livens what is an otherwise flat movie.

What Doesn’t: Admission plays like a motion picture that started as an interesting and provocative screenplay but was re-written by studio executives and Hollywood hacks into inoffensive, cliché, and shapeless porridge. The film begins as a story about an admissions officer who discovers an extraordinary candidate whose unconventional education and personal eccentricities don’t fit with the traditions and norms of a prestigious Ivy League school. With this start the filmmakers position themselves to make a potentially scabrous commentary about the way higher education functions and the way the college admissions process actually limits opportunities instead of offering them. But Admission quickly loses its way and the story is all over the place with unnecessary and absurd subplots. Tina Fey’s character enters into a relationship with the administrator of an alternative school, played by Paul Rudd. This sends the movie down the path of a romantic comedy and the filmmakers don’t do it well at all. There is no heat between the couple and they fall for each other for no reason. Admission gets increasingly ludicrous as Rudd’s character convinces the admissions officer that one of his students is the son she gave up for adoption nearly two decades ago. How he comes to this conclusion makes no sense. But what is even stupider is the way the two characters behave when presented with this information. Both Fey and Rudd’s characters are grossly unprofessional to the point of being corrupt and dishonest. Fey’s character fraternizes with someone who she cannot ethically have a relationship with and then covertly campaigns for the acceptance of the candidate she believes to be her son. Meanwhile, the adoption story becomes suspect, making it look as though Rudd’s character deliberately deceived this woman, manipulating her into compromising her integrity and putting her career at risk. These are the characters that the moviemakers apparently want us to cheer for and it is clear that they depend upon the public image of the actors to carry the movie. Tina Fey plays a less interesting version of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock while Rudd is the cool middle-aged father as seen in Role Models and This is 40. Both actors are likeable but the script is so badly written that whatever good will they inject into Admission is thwarted.

Bottom Line: The few good bits of Admission are overwhelmed by flat plotlines, inconsistent characters, and inane storytelling decisions. This is the kind of movie that is frustrating to watch because the possibilities of its premise are so obvious but that potential is sabotaged by unnecessary storytelling mistakes.

Episode: #435 (April 14, 2013)