The 400-Word Review: Admission
By Sean Collier
March 22, 2013
In the post-Bridesmaids world, there appears to be a new, group-thought comedy archetype to deal with.
Its ingredients are simple enough: two or more undeniably funny performers, a genuinely high-stakes set of circumstances and some unexpected roadblocks. In Wanderlust, this was Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston, serious career difficulties and the perils of communal living; in Identity Thief, it was Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy, financial fraud and harebrained underworld dealings.
And now, Admission: Tina Fey/Paul Rudd, college applications, sitcom-esque family revelations.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Admission casts Fey as Princeton’s quirkiest uptight admission gatekeeper, trying to convince herself that she’s happy while angling for a promotion. When her long-term significant other bails for a scowling Virginia Woolf scholar, she’s taken aback; meanwhile, a globetrotting alt-school administrator (Rudd) informs her that a bright-eyed but troubled prodigy might just be her long-lost son.
It’s a plot one could effortlessly develop at gunpoint. I’ve been told that the book was made flavorful by the scenes in the admissions office, a much-scrutinized and mysterious institution ripe for satire; to wit, the most (read: only) refreshing moments of Admission are those that concern Princeton’s incoming class.
When left to the larger plot, though, Admission prompts little but the occasional yawn and a big question: Where are the jokes? Fey and Rudd are always charming, and manage to ring humor out of dry material a half-dozen or so times. But in a script that borrows liberally from every hit comedy of the 2010s, the writers forgot to concoct, approximate or steal any actual jokes.
They also forgot a supporting cast. Michael Sheen does okay as Fey’s former lover, and Lily Tomlin unsuccessfully apes Jill Clayburgh’s performance in Bridesmaids. Wallace Shawn, as the head of Princeton admissions, is woefully under-utilized. Other than that, every character other than the leads is utterly forgettable; a cardinal sin in a climate with more genuinely delightful character performers than Hollywood knows what to do with. (Even Identity Thief figured that one out.)
The writing was on the wall: recent commercials for Admission showed Fey and Rudd talking up the film on a soundstage, with the only laugh derived from a light zinger Rudd aimed at Shawn. Not in the footage, mind you — in the interview. When a 117 minute film can’t find one line decent enough to sell a few tickets, the viewer is in trouble.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark