After taking this gig reviewing movies for FleshEatingZipper, I actually learned a few things about my own tastes in movies. Namely, I’ve learned that if I simply don’t like a movie that is otherwise well-made, I have tendency to rhetorically ask, “What’s the point?” and maybe it’s unfair to ask that question. It’s certainly lazy to dismiss a film by asking that question. Movies don’t necessarily need to shine a light on a pressing issue to be enjoyable. Several movies I raved about last year had no real reason for existing other than to entertain and yet, I still kept asking myself that question repeatedly while watching Admission.
Tina Fey stars in the typical Tina Fey role of an independent, driven woman who has sacrificed a family life in the pursuit of a career. This time around she plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton. She spends her days telling teenagers that they aren’t simply aren’t good enough to go to her university.
Everything changes, however, when she meets the headstrong principal of an alternative school (Paul Rudd). The man informs Portia that the son she gave up for adoption nearly twenty years ago is attending his school, and the boy wants to go to Princeton. The kid’s a genius, but unfortunately he doesn’t come from money and his transcript is awful. He doesn’t stand a chance of getting in, and Portia finds herself reevaluating her life as she attempts to break the rules to get the boy into the prestigious university. Along the way, she discovers that Paul Rudd might just be the man of her dreams.
Again, there’s that question: What’s the point? The setup is interesting, but Admission is a little too rom-com clichéd to qualify as a proper character study and it’s too dry and laugh-free to qualify as a proper comedy. In the end, we’re left with a movie about two likable, attractive people who fall in love with each other. To the credit of both Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, they almost justify the price of a movie ticket alone.
My love of Paul Rudd is well documented on this site. He’s easily one of the most likable, charismatic actors in Hollywood right now, and he is brilliant at deadpan comedy. Tina Fey, on the other hand, is one of the most likable comediennes on television. It’s kind of cool to just see a movie with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd hanging out together. A movie starring Rudd and Fey nearly challenges my unfair rhetorical question; they’re an ideal comedic match.
And yet the movie is missing an extra ingredient that would justify paying to see it. Admission lacks energy, originality, and actual comedy. It just kind of sits there, lifeless. We aren’t made to care about Portia’s transformation from a stern admissions officer into a caring person because there really isn’t a transformation.
Portia is made out to be this horrible, cold-hearted woman at the beginning of the movie, but we know she isn’t because she’s played by Tina Fey, and Tina Fey can’t help but exude self-deprecation and warmth. Portia’s priorities may change as the movie progresses, but she doesn’t. Maybe it’s a good thing that Fey plays the character that way, because Admission would have been completely unwatchable if its protagonist started off as a completely mean-spirited shrew.
On the other hand, we’re left with a movie without much conflict. Here’s a movie about two likable, attractive people who have great jobs, and the movie ends with two likable, attractive people who have great futures ahead of them. The stakes aren’t high enough to leave an average viewer such as myself invested.
While I can’t recommend the movie, I certainly wouldn’t discourage any Paul Rudd or Tina Fey fans from seeing it. Admission is reasonably well-directed, well-written, and well-acted. It lacks energy, but it isn’t an objectively bad movie by any means. It’s just kind of mediocre. It’s not worth going to cinema to see, but it’s certainly worth watching on television. It’s just a shame, because like many movies that Hollywood has dumped on the market over the past two months, it could have been so much better.