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2013 | 107 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 22 March, 2013
 14 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Admission Blu-ray

Admission Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 21, 2013

Perhaps we were spoiled with “30 Rock,” Tina Fey’s whip-smart, heroically silly network comedy show that recently ended its run on NBC. Graced with ace timing, a remarkably pliable cast, and a commitment to playfulness, the show was a free spirit that never grew old. “Admission” is Fey’s introduction to the world of Serious! acting, and while she’s capable of expanding her craft, this movie doesn’t challenge the actress in a manner that’s expected. Contrived and eventually gutless, “Admission” is boosted by a few meaningful moments and a sharp ensemble who always seem to be aware they’re being handcuffed by a disappointing screenplay. It’s certainly a pleasant picture, but far from the knuckleball wit and goofball wonder Fey is typically associated with.

An admissions officer at Princeton, Portia (Tiny Fey) is burdened with the challenge of student selection, spending her days sifting through files and researching the anxious thousands ready to attend the prestigious college. Overworked and competitive with officemate Corinne (Gloria Ruben), Portia comes home to a dull domestic life with longtime boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), while feminist mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin) applies pressure from afar, distancing their already contentious relationship. Hoping to lure Portia to a rural school for the gifted, John (Paul Rudd) has an ulterior motive, revealing to the harried academic that a special teen named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) could be the son she gave up for adoption 17 years ago. Rocked by the news and finding herself attracted to John, Portia proceeds to peel away her professionalism to help Jeremiah into Princeton, growing obsessed with the boy’s self-educated genius, trying to find pieces of herself in his idiosyncratic ways.

“Admission” is based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, which lends the picture an atypical extension of plot, yet also restricts the material from discovering its own personality. Characters are cleanly outlined by screenwriter Karen Croner (“One True Thing”), and the premise is introduced without fuss, establishing a tense world of judgment and secrecy for Portia that’s rattled by various revelations concerning loved ones and complete strangers. Also keeping the feature on task during its first act is its display of low-wattage comedy, maintaining only mild shots of discomfort for Portia as she clashes with Corinne, tries to cozy up to cold fish Mark, and survives the admission process, kindly deflating the hopes and dreams of the teens desperate to attend Princeton, but don’t really have a shot. The dramedy tone fits “Admission” slackly but satisfactorily, while Fey uses her innate charms to develop multiple layers to Portia’s personality instead of simply marching forward as a one-note fussbudget about to be knocked for a loop.

Unfortunately, the early promise of “Admission” is tempered by uneven direction from Paul Weitz, an uninspired helmer responsible for films such as “Little Fockers,” “American Dreamz,” and “Cirque du Freak.” Uncomfortable with sensitive matters, Weitz mixes up a sitcom glaze for the effort, with a tuneless score, flat cinematography, and superfluous broadness sucking the life out of the production, kneecapping interesting conflicts to make an accessible picture. “Admission” always appears to be pulling its punches, trying to maintain an adorable glow around John despite his aggressive behavior toward Portia and his adopted son Nelson (Travaris Spears), while the Princeton gatekeeper is never truly reprimanded for her wildly dishonest conduct. The screenplay is hesitant to treat Portia honestly, out of fear the audience won’t follow the character through all the difficult decisions and realizations she encounters along the way. “Admission” can’t shake its artificiality, though shockingly inept scenes like one that features Portia and John helping a cow give birth (suddenly, the movie is “City Slickers”) suggest a mad editorial dash to lighten an otherwise interestingly pained picture.

“Admission” does manage a few satisfying moments of connection between Portia and Jeremiah, and Tomlin adds some welcome acidity to the production. It’s also intriguing to peek into the college admissions process, a rare topic of dream-smashing in cinema, with Weitz finding clever ways to remind the viewer of the young futures casually discarded in the battle of acceptance. However, the minute amount of good will “Admission” builds is eradicated in the final 15 minutes -- a blitzkrieg of tidy conclusions and cartoon encounters that does an impressive job erasing the positive aspects of the movie. It’s an abysmal climax stapled to a mediocre film, though its oppressive feel seems easily avoidable. After all, with Fey and Rudd, it’s not hard to make a meaningful, hilarious picture about an unusual subject. Yet, to the creative team behind “Admission,” consistent tonality and profound emotion are needlessly complicated to reach story points that should’ve been excised in the first place.

Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin, Gloria Reuben
Director: Paul Weitz

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