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Sort-of rom-com Admission has unexpected dark side

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The poster for this film suggests a romantic comedy with two appealing, attractive leads -- Tina Fey and Paul Rudd -- with a smart, cynical edge... or at least more of a smart cynical edge than you would find in, say, a Garry Marshall movie.

It's false packaging. Admission is barely a rom-com at all, and contrary to what we might expect of 30 Rock writer-star-smartass Tina Fey, it is a surprisingly earnest and sympathetic piece of work.

In the feminist spirit of one particular character, this is a movie about a woman forcefully busting her way into a domain usually reserved for men: the mid-life crisis.

Fey's character, Portia Nathan, is certainly a woman with some baggage for that trip. Her mom (Lily Tomlin) is a Bella Abzug-era hardcore feminist so self-reliant, she doesn't bother to tell her daughter she's had a double-mastectomy. Portia's live-in boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen) is an over-baked squash of a man, barely capable of giving Portia the news he is moving out to get married to the Virginia Woolf scholar he so carelessly impregnated.

There is also her career. Within the exalted halls of academe Portia occupies, it is her job to destroy the dreams of most of the students who apply to Princeton University for admission. The vast majority of applicants will be rejected. At the same time, Portia is expected to visit schools all over the northeast U.S. to tantalize high school kids into applying.

It is on one of these sojourns where Portia reunites with old Dartmouth classmate John Pressman (Rudd), a whole-grain alternative educator whose New Quest school houses a nest of free-thinkers who actually challenge Portia's mission. Among these is a young lad named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a genius who wants to go to Princeton, but lacks an impressive transcript to prove his genius.

Pressman presses Portia to help Jeremiah get accepted to Princeton by unleashing a bombshell: He thinks Jeremiah is the child Portia gave up for adoption years earlier.

Portia finds herself in a double-bind. She is attracted to John and wants to do the right thing for Jeremiah, but both those relationships represent a conflict of interest in her capacity as an admissions officer.

With a few tweaks, this could have been a thoroughly conventional rom-com. But Paul Weitz, directing Karen Croner's adaptation of a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, doesn't take that well-trodden pop path. Weitz shoots for a character comedy with some dark shadings. Occasionally, this results in some awkward shifts of tone, suggesting Weitz was eager to put too many eggs in a single basket. (Forgive the fertility inference.)

But Fey pulls it all together, proving herself up for the task of venturing into some dramatic deep water after years of playing in the fun, flotsam-filled shallows of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon.


Other voices

Excerpts of reviews of Admission:


If Admission were sharper, it could be the ultimate Mother's Day movie: a picture about a non-mother who cares deeply for the next generation, even when it hasn't sprung directly from her own womb.

-- Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice


What should be a hilarious, long-overdue pairing of two hugely likable, superstar comedians ends up being a major disappointment with Admission.

-- Christy Lemire, Associated Press


The biggest problem with this movie is that Tina Fey didn't write it.

-- Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute


It's not a particularly satisfying comedy, but thanks to the cast and some of the odd directions it takes, Admission is an intensely likable one.

-- Roger Moore, Movie Nation

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 D5

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