Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (both concocted in an underground lab to be superhumanly adorable)immediately falls victim to that familiar trope. Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton who likes to go on long diatribes about what it’s like to be an admissions officer at Princeton. From the get go we’re given a bird’s eye view of the world of college admissions, which as one might expect is filled with examples of hypercompetitive parents and students climbing over top of each other to get that all-coveted acceptance letter.
It’s all very gimmicky and plays mainly to the worst stereotypes of the admissions process and the current generation of college applicants. Ironically, this type of material feels like it’s already been done to death by the many, many I-need-to-get-my-kid-into-a-preschool storylines that keeping popping up on TV every couple of seasons.
Eventually, though, Portia visits an alternative high school – headed up by globe-trotting do-gooder John Pressman (Paul Rudd) – giving us our first reprieve from all of this heightened nonsense. It’s here that we meet Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a bright but eccentric student that John believes to be the son Portia gave up for adoption 18 years earlier.
It may sound a bit hokey on the page, but it’s this adoption storyline that really provides the film with most of its emotional depth. Jeremiah is a fantastic character with a remarkably frank personality that allows him to be funny and weird and refreshingly genuine all at the same time. And most importantly, he has a knack for bringing out the best in Fey’s character. I understand the film’s reluctance to rely too much on this particular aspect of the story – it’s easy for this type of material to turn sappy and cliché – but I found myself wishing for more of this pairing as the movie went on.
Especially considering what was filling time in its place. I hate to say it, but Admission manages to do the impossible and make Paul Rudd feel unlikable. Sure, John has trademarks of Paul Rudd’s unique brand of humour, especially early in the film, but once he’s fulfilled his initial purpose of introducing Portia to Jeremiah there’s not much place for him and all attempts to keep him involved just end up putting a drag on his character.
These troubles are perhaps just endemic of some of the deeper issues with Admission. The film never seems to strike a balance between its high-minded themes and its often over the top comedic elements. When the jokes stay grounded the movie can be quite funny, but the script has a tendency to force it at times and the results rarely seem worth the effort.
Regardless, when it can get out of its own way, Admission makes some very good points about the flawed approach some universities take towards evaluating candidates. It’s a simplified view for sure – there aren’t a whole lot of Jeremiahs out there, brilliant and overlooked – but I would agree that the process should be about more than just the blind collection of extracurricular activities. As Admission wisely points out, there’s something to be said for those who want to learn just for the sheer pleasure of learning. I think that’s a sentiment worth sharing.