Rant and Rave: ‘Admission’

Image courtesy of Focus Features

After 30 Rock ended, a fan might wonder what happens next with Tina Fey’s ever expanding career. Will she add another Emmy to her collection of trophies and recognitions for her hilarious work in television? Enter Admission, a novel written by Jean Hanff Korelitz; upon its release, rave reviews were given to the book which only solidified its chances of becoming a legitimate studio film. Add the fact that the novel has a snarky heroine whose life needs a little “shaking up”, and you get yourself the next big film for Tina Fey. But is it the right film for her?

Admission tells the story of Portia Nathan (Tina Fey), a thirty-something Princeton admissions officer, who is having a rocky relationship with her sixteen-year live-in partner, Mark (Michael Sheen). Her deployment for admissions is in the Midwest, and this deployment takes her to a recently founded high school named Quest School. There, she meets John Pressman, a teacher at Quest School played by Paul Rudd, and his favorite student, Jeremiah Balakian (Nat Wolff). After their chance encounter, John changes her life both emotionally, physically and psychologically; he dates her, gets closer to her and tells her that Jeremiah is actually her son. This sets the trappings for an unconventional romantic comedy, but in truth this is where the problem starts.

The novel excels in giving a very vivid description of what it’s like to be an admissions officer in Princeton; it also makes the heroine, Portia, likable because she was going through so much letting students in the university, while keeping a secret that nobody even knew for more than a decade, a true sign of what the world is today. In the film, however, they gave away the twist of the novel within the first twenty minutes, and replaced it with a new twist; the pivotal surprise at the end makes the viewers gasp, although a reader of the book will know that the movie’s creative team made Admission look bad.

One of the problems that the film encountered is its awkward dialogue between the characters. Most of the time, the film sets itself as a comedy because of its two wonderful leads, Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. The dialogue, though, calls for heavy emotions, which then regresses the film back into being a drama. The dialogue also uses the tropes and ideas of the book and turns them into one-liners and jokes that were meant to be discussed throughout the film; take, for example, the confession of Mark having a child out of wedlock with a woman Portia despises. All throughout the film, Portia sees Mark with “Helen”, and she makes scowls reminiscent of episodes in 30 Rock. In the book, Mark isn’t even discussed as much as the students and John.

What redeems the film, however, are the scenes when Portia reads the applications of the countless of students in the Midwest. In a novel, the author has to be descriptive and imaginative to evoke the realness and authenticity of the content, and Jean Hanff Korelitz achieved that with Admission; the film made the students even more likable, and Portia’s rooting for some is entirely plausible and acceptable, a fact that solidifies Portia’s love for the job.

One of the best aspects of the film, hands down, is the casting. If you base it on the looks, then the viewer would definitely agree that Nat Wolff, a child star who came from Nickelodeon’s The Naked Brothers’ Band, really looks like Tina Fey. Certain scenes in the whole story proved that by closing up on both their faces; if the viewer hasn’t read the book, this clue might spur some ideas in the mind while watching the film. To the reader, however, the enthusiasm is unparalleled when the two stars were cast, setting up the notion that maybe the film would be brilliant.

The film excels in the moments when it doesn’t rely on the screenplay, but on the ensemble itself. The team makes it a point to squeeze out the material that is evident on the big screen. There is undeniable talent within Tina Fey, but her dramatic chops were tested in the film, and these had proven to be successful. Provided, she might get a few nominations with a Golden Globe being the most prominent, but the whole film is totally working against her. On another note, Lily Tomlin, much like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, steals every scene she’s in with her antics and perfect comedic timing; Tomlin plays Portia’s mom, Susannah, and unlike in the book, Susannah is just crazy in the film.

In the end, one can say that Admission is just a light “dramedy” that is confused as to which direction it should go. The blame could be put on Paul Weitz, the director, for misinterpreting the dark and satiric tone Korelitz established in her book. Paul Weitz, in fact, has been directing flops since Little Fockers. To all the fans of Fey, this film could be just the start of her big career move after 30 Rock, but rest assured, Admission can serve as the film that can help a fan wait until she walks onto the stage to receive an Oscar.

Rating: 2.5/4
Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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