There’s no denying it- Tina Fey (30 Rock, Mean Girls) and Paul Rudd (Anchorman, I Love You, Man) are extraordinary talents who will both have long storied careers in the comedy world. But even these two titans of the big screen will encounter acclaim with their every release (See Date Night, Wanderlust). Enter “Admission” (PG-13) one such bump in the road. The film tells the story of Portia Nathan (Fey), an admissions officer at Princeton University whose life is completely focused on the annual task of plucking the best and the brightest students to fill the upcoming class of the Ivy League school. A chance run-in with John Pressman (Rudd), the headmaster at a New England alternative high school sends Portia to question her own career, the selection process, and her life as a whole.
As soon as the title card appears on the screen we are hit with a barrage of story exposition. Fey’s voiceover explains the general idea of the college admissions process- a bit redundant considering the general plot of the film repeated again mere minutes later. As Princeton’s current Dean of Admissions played by character actor Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride, Clueless) nears his retirement, he wants the University to retain its esteemed legacy in his absence and as such, becomes the plot catalyst for Portia to work toward. Paul Rudd’s ‘Jon Pressman’ throws himself directly into the mix and acts as the comedic monkey wrench and/or moral compass to have Portia question these goals. Pressman has a gifted student that he all but throws at Portia to convince her is Princeton material, which in turn leads to an almost two hour back and forth of questioning Princeton’s highly conservative admissions process.
The idea of the “will they or won’t they” in romantic comedy is nothing new, but tends to be overused. Sadly, “Admission” suffers from this cliche throughout the film by leaning on it far too often. Fey and Rudd’s characters chew up the screen with their confusing yet somehow budding relationship. At several points, we were left thinking that certain scenes were left on the cutting room floor, as the narrative appears to jump ahead in a very jarring way. Countless times Fey is seen in the arms of Rudd before turning on a dime telling him she doesn’t ever want to see him again. And in keeping with the theme of using brilliant talent poorly, we find the legendary Lily Tomlin as Fey’s feminist mother as an extremely over the top and stereotypical version of a modern feminist. But as pleasant it was to find Tomlin in the role, the character comes off as extremely vapid and lacking any true meaning.
In the end, it appears that a film about the trials and tribulations of the college admissions process can only go so far before ultimately running out of gas. For this piece to have worked, we would have had to be truly invested in the characters and their plight. Both of which were completely missing here. Unfortunately, resting on the laurels of Fey and Rudd’s celebrity isn’t enough to complete a successful film and while we get a sense of the movie the production team had set out to make, intent alone isn’t enough. Hollywood will continue to churn out flicks about, jobs that appear to be kooky, but unfortunately “Admission” just comes across as lazy.
“Admission” starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, and Lily Tomlin is rated PG-13, has a runtime of 117 minutes and is released on Friday, March 22nd.
- Jay Rubin