[Screen It]


(2013) (Tina Fey, Paul Rudd) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A college admissions officer must contend with various changes in her life, including that one of her applicants might be the son she gave up for adoption at birth.
For the past 16 years, Portia Nathan (TINA FEY) has worked in the admissions office for Princeton University. Now that her boss, Clarence (WALLACE SHAWN), has announced he's retiring, Portia and rival Corinne (GLORIA REUBEN) find themselves competing for his job. The fact that Princeton has slipped to number two in a recent poll means the pressure is on them to find the best students. Among the candidates Portia is checking out is Jeremiah Balkan (NAT WOLFF), a self-proclaimed autodidact who wasn't getting much better than D grades until he entered New Quest, a remotely located school that teaches in unorthodox ways.

John Pressman (PAUL RUDD) is one of the teachers there and a champion for Jeremiah attending Princeton, not only because he thinks the kid is brilliant, but also because he's pretty sure the teen is Portia's biological son, given up at birth for adoption. The admission's officer, who's lived with boyfriend and current Princeton English professor Mark (MICHAEL SHEEN) for the past decade, thinks he's crazy. But when John -- the adoptive father of Nelson (TRAVARIS SPEARS) from Uganda -- shows her Jeremiah's birth certificate, the dates and location seem to match up. To make matters worse, the school isn't far from Portia's mom, Susanna (LILY TOMLIN), meaning she has to overnight it there and the two don't exactly get along.

Realizing she has an uphill battle but also feeling somewhat responsible for Jeremiah's future, Portia then does what she can to prepare the teen for his interviews, as well as convince the rest of the admissions office that he's the right fit for the school.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
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.

Reviewed March 5, 2013 / Posted March 22, 2013

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