Saturday, March 23, 2013


Do Her A Favor, Open The Door, And Let Him In

Tina Fey as Portia and Paul Rudd as John in Paul Weitz's comedy-drama "Admission".  David Lee/Focus Features

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, March 23, 2013

Paul Weitz's "Admission", a drama sprinkled with comedy, is full of surprising moments and awkward ones, and it's a film that is as ill-fitting overall as some of its specific episodes.  The lack of congruity however, isn't entirely in its structure, rather, it's appropriately in its whole point as a landscape where all its characters are trying to find a place to belong, with rejection looming in the near distance. 

Portia (Tina Fey) has been recruiting students at Princeton University for 16 years, travelling far and wide to look for the ideal Princetonian.  She rivals a colleague (Gloria Reubens, "Lincoln") in the drive to restore Princeton's place as the number one recruitment school.  Portia's long-time boyfriend (Michael Sheen, in a far less subtle comic turn than in "Midnight In Paris") literally treats her like a Golden Retriever.  On top of that indignity an altogether different student with great potential is being forged upon her as a Princeton candidate by John (Paul Rudd), a single parent of an adopted child from Uganda (the whip-smart and lovable Travaris Spears.)

"Admission" intends to be serious.  No sooner does the Focus Features logo leave the screen than the film's white title card, in black background, appears.  The film, with early narration by Portia, unfolds more as a confessional laid out by its lead figure, a psychological adventure and a visualization of what a patient might tell her therapist in a session.  There's no therapist in "Admission", though.  I loved that "Admission" did not have that clichéd professional figure who tries to make things "right".  What I liked about this film is the freedom it has in allowing its people to find their own way and make mistakes while depicting those errors both realistically and humorously, as well as how people cope with the choices they make. 

A lot of "Admission" is about seeking a home and finding that piece in the human puzzle that fits, no matter how awkward it may be to the "traditionalist" family model.  The film flaunts a refreshing incorrectness that is casual, real and not mean-spirited.  Sometimes "Admission" ventures to places you expect, and at other times it does not.  Many, if not all of the film's characters, are fleshed out beyond surface, and there's sincerity to some of those who would otherwise solely be stereotypes or background in many films.  Comedy is never far from Mr. Weitz's film, and if "Admission" could have been better it could have plunged even more into drama without some of the gimmicks it displays.

The deck in "Admission" however, appears symmetrically and conveniently stacked, as Mr. Weitz and screenwriter Karen Croner (based on Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel) explore a world of fractured, incomplete people.  What's impressive about the film is its deft, careful and entirely real beats of comedy and drama, albeit honed in a genuinely messy way.  Life itself is like this.  There's rough edges and weight to "Admission" that distances it from other mainstream films of its ilk.  "Admission" really tries, and ultimately succeeds, as a evolving portrait of today's American family.

Tina Fey, in her best big screen work to date, is great as Portia, a character trying to find her place in the world as much as she is the applicants she champions.  The Paul Rudd we see here is the Paul Rudd of "Our Idiot Brother" and "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower", not of "This Is 40" or "Wanderlust", and he's very good here, as is Lily Tomlin as Portia's estranged mother, and Wallace Shawn as Princeton's dean of admissions.

Misunderstandings, miscommunications, impulsiveness and ambition are some of the elements that create tension in everyday official human affairs let alone relationships of all kinds.  "Admission" captures this in evenly tragicomic form, with part caricatured and part life-altering events.  Sometimes the resolution in life is that there is no resolution, and that coping with that reality is the task (or the resolution itself!)  "Admission" approximates this, and gives a good effort, if not always a smooth one, in that vein.  It's rare these days that a Hollywood film, advertised as a comedy but so clearly a drama, has such an earnest approach while being a far from rounded film. 

"Admission", which grapples with itself, offers food for thought and will, I believe, provide something for everyone.  Sometimes Mr. Weitz takes on too much, and at other times he doesn't flesh things out as much as I think he should have.  Still, "Admission" is an admirable, entertaining and enjoyable effort.

Also with: Nat Wolff, John Brodsky.

"Admission", which opened yesterday across the U.S. and Canada, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language and some sexual material.  The film's running time is one hour and 45 minutes.

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