3/25/2013 3:26:00 PM Movie Review: Story, actors lift Admission above standard fare
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (above) star in Admission, along with scene-stealing Lily Tomlin (below). Focus Features
David Kanowsky Kudos Movie Critic, The Movie Man
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are two very attractive stars with enough talent to lift this romantic comedy above some of the flimsy films of this genre that have played recently. The essential value of Admission is the story, scripted by Karen Croner from a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
Portia Nathan (Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton University. It is the only job she has had since she finished college 16 years earlier. Portia is happy in her work, reveling in the power she wields over applicants for entry into this very prestigious institution. She is one of a department of 10 application reviewers who examine about 26,000 applications each year, and accept about 1,000.
Portia is very detached from the emotional aspect of her job. Reviewing a resume, appraising a transcript and conducting an interview are perfunctory tasks for her. Besides, Portia doesn't particularly like children - of any age! She may be in line for the position of department manager; the current manager has announced his retirement. She faces stiff competition from another woman, Corinne (Gloria Reuben), with whom Portia has a contentious relationship.
Part of the job for the admissions officers is to visit high schools or prep schools to help evaluate a student's credentials. It doesn't work for Princeton to accept a student who has an outstanding record at a school with very low standards.
Portia visits a little known school located near the home of her mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin). The leading academic teacher at the school is John Pressman (Rudd), who remembers Portia as a fellow collegian at Dartmouth where John's girlfriend was Portia's roommate. He wants Portia to get to know a student, Jeremiah, who exhibits extraordinary intelligence, but was lax in following the curricula to score high grades. John also remembers that Portia gave birth to a child in college and then was dumped by her lover. The baby was given up for adoption at birth. John believes that the student he is promoting for Princeton, Jeremiah, is Portia's child. She works to get Jeremiah's admission application in shape to overcome some of the shortcomings in his record.
Portia's life begins to fall apart when her lover for 10 years leaves her for another woman. This has a sobering effect on her as she realizes her perfect life is becoming a struggle. Admission takes us on the journey with Portia as that struggle changes her outlook and makes her aware of other people's minds, hearts and souls. The effort to promote Jeremiah's cause, without revealing their relationship, meets obstacles. Portia takes some drastic, costly steps to achieve her ends.
Admission has a fair amount of humor and the performances are good by all. Lily Tomlin wins the 'steal every scene' nod as an over-aged hippie, living alone. And Portia has issues with her mother. Susannah got pregnant with Portia in a one-night stand with a man she never saw again and whose name she never knew. Portia is resentful that she will never know her father's name!
There may be some subtle message for us in Admission. We are shown how the system of selection for participation in elite circles can be arbitrary and apathetic. After the examiners have previewed, reviewed and interviewed a few thousand applicants, perhaps some diamonds are overlooked in the pile of coal.
The denouement in Admission is not entirely predictable and there are a few interesting surprises before the end.