Main Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd
Director: Paul Weitz
I am, admittedly, generally too jaded and cynical to be a big romantic comedy fan. But I’m also girly enough not to be completely immune to their fairy tale charms. Given the right circumstances, I will indulge. Those circumstances sometimes have names. Right now, they are Tina Fey and Paul Rudd and their rom/com vector is Admission.
Admission has Fey starring as Portia Nathan, an admission’s officer at Princeton. She loves her job – as competitive as the admissions process itself and something she’s been doing for well over a decade. She’s good at what she does, cut-throat though it may be. Rudd joins the mix as John Pressman, head of an alternative high school with a promising student he wants Portia to consider. He manages to convince her to visit the school, which truly is alternative and challenges her traditional pre-admissions routine, and presents her with a unique young man with whom he thinks she will make a connection. The movie proceeds as Portia begins to question her job and become immersed in the lives of this child and his mentor.
It isn’t a brilliant premise. In fact, it has all the trappings of a typical “powerful woman really wants love and not power” crapfest. But it’s helmed by Paul Weitz, and as he proved in About a Boy, he has the ability to turn a crapfest duckling into a complex and witty swan. He works his magic by allowing situations to be messy and complicated and not always going for the easy laugh (it’s Fey and Rudd – he has to go for some of the easy laughs). He also puts together a brilliant cast that knows a thing or two about the elusive power of subtlety and pathos in toning down a comedy so that it’s gentle without losing either its spirit or its poignancy.
Driving this particular Weitz vehicle is the talent of the ensemble cast. Fey and Rudd have both good chemistry and the ability to keep their characters whole and give them some depth. Fey plays her usual lovely, driven, insecure dork while Rudd rides his familiar slacker/genius/good guy schtick with much success. These are standard character types for the actors but rather than feeling old and worn, the roles just feel perfectly cast. Joining the leads is an absolutely wonderful Lily Tomlin as Portia’s hippie mother. She’s both a whack job and completely down to Earth – she’s a terrific foil for the uptight Portia and the relationship between the two characters creates a nice balance of comedy and drama.
And here lies Weitz’s other bit of genius – the balance of comedy and drama. Admission is not a rollicking, roll on the floor comedy. Like About a Boy, it has a substantial amount of character development that is often lacking in the genre and that dilutes the opportunity for the quick joke. The audience is free to laugh at the fumbling Portia but also feels it when she experiences real pain. It’s important to go into the movie with the right expectations – this isn’t raunchy comedy like Bridesmaids or typical romantic comedy like (barf) 27 Dresses. It falls far more into the category of dramedy and in that it’s quite successful. There are scenes and jokes that fall flat but as a whole, the movie is touching and funny and entertaining. It isn’t a must-see on the big screen – it won’t lose a thing in translation to DVD and I suspect the gag reel is hilarious – but it’s certainly worth a watch. 4 stars out of 5 and recommended for fans of Weitz, Fey or Rudd.
photos by lukeford.net and David Shankbone