My memories of my college application process are a bit hazy, especially considering I've now been alive longer since graduating from college than from birth to that graduation day. That said, I certainly don't recall it being as complicated and laborious as it is today, and the entire college prep industry was nothing then as compared to the sprawling behemoth it's now become.
And that's despite me being at the tail end of the baby boom and thus company to a plethora of students who hoped to get into the college of their choice. I got good grades in high school, did okay on the SATs and wrote my application essay on some matter that entirely escapes me now. And then my fate, at least in terms of where I'd attend college, was in the hands of one or more admissions officials at the schools of my choice.
All of which seems sort of a lousy way to finish the process, with the biggest factor being someone's personal assessment of my collective efforts up to that point. How did I know if they were a veteran of such choices or a rookie just starting out? What if they had a bad day? Or might they have been distracted? Or not like my name or some class I took? Of what if they thought they were my biological mother who gave me up at birth for adoption?
Okay, that last one might be stretching it a bit, but that's the very premise of "Admission," a college entry dramedy starring Tina Fey as one such official (at Princeton, no less) who's informed by a teacher (Paul Rudd) of a student (Nat Wolff) who's applying, and the apparent strong familial bond between the applicant and admissions specialist.
A 16-year veteran who's jockeying for the job being vacated by her boss (Wallace Shawn), Portia has pretty much seen it all in terms of hopeful acceptance ploys, but this development has thrown her for a loop. As has the fact that her long-time live-in boyfriend (Michael Sheen) has just dumped her for another woman, what with having impregnated the latter with twins.
It's not a terribly complicated set-up, and director Paul Weitz ("About a Boy") -- who works from Karen Croner's adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel -- only does an okay job playing off his performers' strong points. Accordingly, fans of Fey's witty remarks and self-deprecating style along with Rudd's charming and sometimes deadpan persona will probably like them in their respective characters, along with the chemistry they generate and share.
It's nothing that will knock your cinematic socks off and the performers clearly aren't stretching much, but it's charming and pleasant enough to keep the pic from failing, with some decent laughs along the way. That said, while the film tiptoes in the direction of exposing personal foibles and potential related corruption in such a line of work, it easily could and likely should have taken that matter much farther in the direction and name of wicked satire. Perhaps if Fey had penned the script herself, it might have gone there. Or if the real life Princeton wasn't playing itself (and presumably had some say it what could and couldn't be portrayed), the film's kid gloves might have come off in favor of some harder hitting punches.
That's not to imply there aren't some more serious, dramatic moments, such as Fey's "what have I done with my life" character having to interact with her free-spirited and apparently not entirely fully invested in the past child-rearing mom played by Lily Tomlin. And then there's the adoption related material including scenes featuring Rudd's character and his adopted son who just wants a normal rather than traveling life.
To the relief of filmmakers and the studios releasing their wares, many a film can be accepted to play in movie theaters without being in the top of their class. "Admission" is one such pic. It's okay to be around, but it obviously could have used more prep work in getting ready for the big time. It rates as a 5 out of 10.