With Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin. Written by Karen Croner. Directed by Paul Weitz. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material. 117 minutes.
By now we know that Paul Rudd’s presence in a movie tells us nothing about its quality. He’s had supporting roles in some decent films and can be a pleasant enough personality. On the other hand if you’ve suffered through something like “This Is 40” you know his being in the cast is not a clue as to whether the film is worth seeing.
The jury is still out on Tina Fey, whose work has been primarily on television, doing voice work for animation, and as a writer. If ADMISSION is any indication, though, the appearance of Fey and Rudd may become an early warning signal that this is a movie to avoid at all costs. It’s sad because we know they each can do better. What “Admission” makes clear is that they don’t care. So long as the check clears, they’re willing to go through the motions.
Fey is Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton. The idea of a comedy about a college admissions person is full of potential. Unfortunately, little of that potential is realized here. Instead we focus on Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), an oddball applicant from a quirky school in Vermont. John (Paul Rudd) teaches there and has decided to campaign for Jeremiah to get into Princeton, despite his sketchy record.
It says a lot about the failure of the film that we don’t really care about Jeremiah’s admission, nor do we believe in Portia’s actions given how obvious it is that she will be caught. A subplot involving her being a candidate to succeed the current head of admissions (Wallace Shawn) goes nowhere. Instead, we’re supposed to focus on the failure of her long-term romance with an English professor (Michael Sheen) and the possibility of something blossoming with John, who has his own issues. This may be the worst romantic comedy since the Sandra Bullock disaster “All About Steve.”
Since the film gives us no reason to care about these people, it just flounders. The only character who is in the slightest bit interesting is Susannah (Lily Tomlin), Portia’s mother. She’s so weird that she commands our attention when she’s on screen. If the film had been about the relationship between Portia and Susannah it would have been a lot more interesting. Unfortunately, the filmmakers really don’t know what to do with Susannah’s character either.
Instead, they focus on the admission process. While there are some clever visuals used to illustrate it, it’s really not all that interesting. Since we don’t know or care about anyone except Jeremiah, any time spent on anyone else’s application is just more spinning of wheels. If “Admission” was a college application, it would be rejected, but only after the application fee had been deposited. That may be the most apt metaphor for the process of separating the moviegoer from his or her money for this failed effort.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.