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Thu March 21, 2013
I must admit I liked Admission.
Director: Paul Weitz (Little Fockers)
Screenplay: Karen Croner (One True Thing) from Jean Hanff Korelitz novel
Cast: Tina Fey (Date Night), Paul Rudd (This is 40)
by John DeSando
The amusing Admission is the first successful comedy of the year and a reasonable look at the admission process for an elite college--Princeton. Tina Fey as Portia and Paul Rudd as John turn in pleasant performances as an admissions executive and a progressive school teacher respectively. Rudd is amiable here and usually successful in his film career, while Fey’s efforts up to now have been mediocre (Date Night, Baby Mama).
As an Alumni Admissions interviewer for over 30 years at Georgetown University, I find much of the story ringing true from the overachieving candidates nurtured by ambitious parents to the underachieving but brilliant and risky individualists. Portia must struggle with the boxed-in role of continuing the Princeton tradition (read stereotypes) or breaking away to push for a student who calls himself an "autodidact" with low grades but perfect scores on achievement tests for courses he never took.
Amid the plot’s fierce applicant battle for a slot, Portia and John dance to the usual romantic formula of disliking each other to . . . Well, you know the drill. However, it’s their reactions to the admission process that provide the authentic tension as he has developed students with independent minds, and she is used to the cookie-cutter candidates who lack the passion of those independents.
Director Paul Weitz knows something about family dynamics and children with his About a Boy, In Good Company, and Little Fockers among the more obvious examples. Signing up Lily Tomlin to play Portia’s feminist mom was inspired; like the ubiquitous aging Alan Arkin, Tomlin should now have plenty of work.
Admission requires no small amount of sympathy for the messy business of growing up and getting ahead—Weitz navigates the vagaries of family ambition well. If the double-meaning of the title seems too precious to you, don’t worry, the rest of the story is almost unambiguous.
Although Admission is mostly about applicants to an upper-tier college, it also poses the unethical means some might employ to gain entrance. Even Portia is not blameless, a touch I found in the film’s favor while it deals with the unreal segment of our population smart enough to be considered for admission.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com