Growing up, one of my favorite movies was How I Got into College.
It provided a light-hearted look (to put it mildly) at the college admissions process, and while some of the humor was typical of lame 1980s comedies, it touched a chord for this young applicant.
Cut to 24 years later, and the new film Admission tackles similar ground — albeit from the perspective of an admissions officer. But unlike that ’80s “classic,” this one won’t be earning a special place in my movie memories.
In Admission, Tina Fey plays a character named Portia, who tells applicants to Princeton University that there’s no secret formula for getting in: “If this is the right place for you, then this is where you’ll end up.” (Awwww.) She and her coworkers are looking for passionate students, and all that other clichéd stuff you hear, but that all too often, isn’t really true.
For a while, it’s actually kind of fun to see the admissions process from this perspective, and to see the wheeling and dealing that goes into a college’s decision-making process. I got a particular kick out of a scene where the officers collect the over-the-top raves and rants they hear after decisions have been sent out. (Among them: “I hope you get rectal cancer.”)
But then the plot kicks in: Portia’s life has always been predictable and safe, whether she’s on the road telling high school students the same ole shpiel or at home with her boyfriend (Michael Sheen), and her uptight, emotionally closed-off nature leaves no room for children — or babies, to be specific.
One day, she gets a call from John (Paul Rudd), a former college classmate. He remembers her. She … not so much. After traveling around the world, John now runs New Quest, an alternative high school in New Hampshire. Among his students is one who may just be a diamond in the rough, and John thinks Portia should meet him.
Oh, and the kid may also be Portia’s son.
As you might expect, this throws her whole life into a tizzy. If only it was a funnier tizzy.
Fey and Rudd come with built-in likability, and of course, it’s inevitable they’re going to wind up together (it actually happens way too easily and conveniently), but they don’t ever generate the sparks — romantic, comic, or otherwise — that we want them to. (It’s similar to how the combination of Fey and Steve Carell didn’t make for comedy magic in Date Night, either.)
You can’t entirely blame the two leads, though. Director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and screenwriter Karen Croner (working from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel) have crafted a pleasant and sweet, but unchallenging, middle-of-the-road movie that coasts on the charm of its actors, and asks us to believe, among other things, that Portia, so adamantly against motherhood at the start of the film, would instantly drop all her non-maternal instincts the second she learns she might have a child. The filmmakers put Fey, such a smart comedienne, into situations where she has to do dumb stuff like dress in a hoodie and act like a student so she can sneak into a frat party. They also want us to believe that it only takes an hour or two to travel by car from New Jersey to New Hampshire. Now that’s funny!
Admission wants to be a not-subtle metaphor movie about how and why we choose to let people in — it’s right there in the tagline — but unfortunately, it keeps audiences on the waiting list, never making a real connection. In the end, I suspect audiences will opt for something more satisfying, like so many students in a similar position do every spring.
I’m giving Admission a disappointing B–.
If you could do it all over again, would you apply and/or go to the same college? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.