out of Five
Running time: 108
Admission remains watchable thanks to strong comic performances from Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and a superb supporting cast, but the tone is uneven, the central romance is unconvincing and it's disappointingly low on actual laughs.
What's it all about?
Directed by Paul Weitz, Admission stars Tina Fey as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer who's vying with her ambitious colleague Corinne (Gloria Reuben) for a promotion when the dean of admissions (Wallace Shawn) retires. In an attempt to raise her profile, Portia visits an alternative New Quest school run by former college classmate John (Paul Rudd), who introduces her to gifted-but-atypical student (he's an autodidact with low grades but high test scores) Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) and then hits her with the bombshell that he thinks Jeremiah is the child she secretly gave up for adoption while she was in college.
Reeling from John's revelation and a humiliating, badly-timed split from her long-time English professor boyfriend (Michael Sheen), Portia warms to Jeremiah and decides to champion his cause without revealing that she thinks she's his birth mother. At the same time, she finds herself falling for John and repeatedly clashes with her feminist icon mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin), who has never told her the identity of her own father.
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are extremely likeable comic actors, which is probably just as well, since both characters are less than sympathetic at times; it's unusual, for example, to see unethical behaviour go essentially unpunished in a mainstream film, yet that's what happens here and it's oddly uncomfortable to watch. Fortunately, there's also a superb supporting cast on hand, including a film-stealing Lily Tomlin as Susannah, amusing turns from Michael Sheen (whose character is comically afraid of the pregnant mistress he has left Portia for) and Olek Krupa (as a Russian academic with a crush on Susannah) and likeable performances from Nat Wolff and young Travaris Spears as John's adopted black son Nelson.
Unfortunately, Weitz struggles to find the right tone for the film, with the result that scenes involving unnecessary slapstick comedy (e.g. Portia having to help deliver a baby calf) sit awkwardly alongside the film's more serious elements. It's also fair to say that between the admissions plot, the secret adoption stuff and the underwritten central romance, there's just too much going on and the script fails to keep all those balls in the air.
On top of that, there's surprisingly little chemistry between Fey and Rudd (who are otherwise perfect on paper), which isn't helped by the characters continually behaving inconsistently. It's also fair to say that the script bungles its central emotional elements so the various resolutions end up feeling extremely flat.
Admission remains watchable thanks to strong comic performances across the board, but the uneven tone means that it's both low on laughs and emotionally unconvincing.