Film review: Admission

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in the not-so-serious soul searcher Admission. Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in the not-so-serious soul searcher Admission.

Comedy neutral: Admission struggles to find a balance between humor and drama

Some movies are serious comedies. Others are dramas that happen to be funny. Then there’s Admission, which can’t make up its mind which it is, and is subsequently neither.

At Admission’s center is Tina Fey, who stretches beyond playing the straight man and being the butt of every other character’s jokes (as often was the case on “30 Rock”). She’s Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton, who’s contacted by John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a teacher at a hippie- friendly type school in Keene, N.H.

Pressman has a senior in his class who has terrible grades, but aced the SAT and the AP exams (without taking AP courses). He’s also a heavy reader, and self-taught about most things.

And he’s adopted. And his birth date happens to be an important date to Portia. And Pressman puts two and two together.

That sounds like a spoiler, but it’s really a McGuffin—a plot device used to kick the story into action. Because once Portia learns about the senior, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), she begins to question everything in her life.

Why, for example, has she stayed at the same job for 16 years? Why is her job in education? Why does she stay with the same boyfriend for a decade when there’s clearly no passion between them? Why is her mother (a welcome Lily Tomlin) such a jerk to her? Why is she afraid of personal risk?

Why, the filmmakers ask us? They demand that we care! And it’s hard to care. Director Paul Weitz (most recently he directed the not-comedy Being Flynn) gets stuck between the jokes (Portia gets roped into delivering a calf at the hippie school with John and Jeremiah) and the drama (the whole what’s-best-for-our-kids motif), and the rhythm is off.

None of that would be difficult to swallow if the gags were funny and didn’t come across as time-fillers. Rudd downplays most of the comedy in a way that makes it seem like he’s compensating for the screenplay’s straight-up silly turns.

Still, the movie gets some things right. Portia’s initial reaction to meeting Jeremiah and learning, maybe, who he is, feels authentic. So does her reaction after she bumps into him during a Princeton tour.

What feels inauthentic is much of everything else. For example, do the filmmakers know how far apart Princeton, N.J., and Keene, N.H. are? Do the filmmakers realize Lily Tomlin is really funny, and is wasted in the role of a bitter hippie? Is there any way the ventriloquism show would actually produce the effect it does in the end?

Sure, seeing those scene descriptions railroaded next to each other doesn’t make much sense. Neither does much of Admission. At least the movie proves that Tina Fey can carry a picture (even if it’s not so good), and Paul Rudd can rein it in, which he hasn’t done often outside The Object of My Affection and The Shape of Things. On the whole, though, Admission’s studio should have denied it like so many kids Princeton turns away.

Admission/PG-13, 107 minutes /Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Playing this week

A Good Day to Die Hard
Carmike Cinema 6

Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Beautiful Creatures
Carmike Cinema 6

The Call
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

The Croods 3D
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Django Unchained
Carmike Cinema 6

Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Escape From Planet Earth
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Carmike Cinema 6

Happy People: A Year in
the Taiga

Vinegar Hill Theatre

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Carmike Cinema 6

Identity Thief
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

The Incredible Burt

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Jack the Giant Slayer
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

The Last Exorcism Part II
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Life of Pi
Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Carmike Cinema 6

Olympus Has Fallen
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Murph: The Protector
Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Oz the Great and Powerful
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Safe Haven
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Silver Linings Playbook
Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Spring Breakers
Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6

Movie houses

Carmike Cinema 6

Regal Downtown Mall
Cinema 6


Regal Stonefield 14
and IMAX

Vinegar Hill Theatre

Posted In:     Arts


Previous Post

ARTS Pick: DJ Shadow

Next Post

ARTS Pick: Aziz Ansari

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of