Admission is a film that should probably end up in the “deny” pile. Directed by Peter Weitz (About a Boy) and starring Tina Fey, the film begins in the ivy-embellished halls of Princeton University. Fey plays Portia Nathan, a member of Princeton’s prestigious admissions department, where her job is to decide who, among thousands of applicants, gets in.
The film introduces Fey’s character as an uptight, play-by-the-rules, “boring” career woman, stuck in the same underwhelming job and uninspiring relationship.
As the yang to her yin, Paul Rudd plays John Pressman, a former college classmate of Portia and the over-the-top, free spirited principal of an alternative school out in the country. In John’s world, adventurous outside-of-the-box thinking, suspicion of institutions, and mastery of sustainable living are all intrinsic aspects of a good education. In McGill terms, John’s ideal school would be a mix of Macdonald Campus and Rad Frosh.
These two worlds collide when Portia stumbles upon John’s school on an admissions tour. John introduces her to Jeremiah Balakian (played by the charming Nat Wolf), a student prodigy and self-proclaimed “autodidact” with a shaky academic record, but nevertheless equipped with charisma and quirk. John is convinced that Jeremiah would succeed at a school like Princeton if given the chance, and that he may also be of particular personal interest to Portia.
Admission bravely wants to be a few different things. It definitely wants to be silly and lighthearted—the casting of Rudd and Fey as co-stars tells us that much. It wants to critique the rat-race nature of the U.S. university admissions process, which, as we see in the film, unfortunately degenerates into a game of whose application combines the most tear-jerking story with the best academic record. The irony is driven home without subtlety. In all its attempts at being holistic and all-examining, the U.S. admissions process does end up overlooking the real essence of the students it tosses into the accept or deny piles.
Admission wants to talk about the power of knowledge at a moment when a higher education doesn’t equate to employment, and more and more kids opt to travel and postpone university altogether. And it certainly, at its core, wants to be about that process of self-discovery, of finding oneself, and about believing in the oddball.
Unfortunately Admission’s comedic appendage feels forced, the plot is full of holes, and the characters seem shallow and overridden with cliché prototypes. Rudd, Fey, and newcomer Wolf had endearing moments, but Admission is oversaturated in sap and sweetness without any sustained heart. It does not outright fail in the themes it encounters, but we’ve all come to expect brilliance from Fey and Rudd. Admission should never have been admitted to the screen.
Admission is currently playing at Cineplex Banque Scotia (977 Ste-Catherine).