ADMISSION – Accepted or Denied?

Posted: August 11, 2013 by barberjo in Film Reviews, John

Admission

Marketing is stupid.  In the alien world of Hollywood, a movie has to fit into a particular niche, or it gets lost. And if it doesn’t fit any of those niches? If it’s a square peg? Well dang it, we’ll shoehorn it into one style or another. And, of course, when that happens, the movie gets lost.

ADMISSION got stuck into the Romantic Comedy black hole, and it was a terrible mistake. Is it romantic? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. But it’s nothing like the stuff that the Hollywood Romantic Comedy machine machine churns out on a regular basis. It’s so, so, so much more than that.

This film centers on Tina Fey’s character Portia, an admissions counselor at Princeton. It’s her job to judge teenagers based on their resume and GPA and to determine if they’re worthy of the coveted “Accepted” check mark. “What’s the secret to getting in?” she asks. “There is no secret.” But that’s not quite true, and as the movie progresses we learn exactly what the secret is – the secret is passion. Being passionate about something is the mark of a successful applicant, and Portia learns that it’s also exactly what’s missing from her life. She’s in a boring long-term relationship with a boring guy. And, worst of all, she’s convinced herself that her life is perfect.

She meets Paul Rudd’s character, John (great name), who is all passion. He’s out of control passionate and she has no idea what to do with him. But for Portia, he’s problematic for another reason. He gives her a piece of information that shakes her the the core. And instantly, that perfect life is gone.

I don’t want to give too much plot information here. because for me, discovering these plot elements was beautiful. Not knowing from the trailers that all of these things were going to happen was great.

But here’s the thing that separates ADMISSION from the typical rom-com kinda film. This movie is about grown-ups that have to make grown-up decisions, some of which blow up in their faces. These characters do dumb things, but they do them for all the right reasons. So often in this kind of movie, characters do stupid things that real people would never do. But in ADMISSION, their cringe-worthy moments feel like things we’ve all done a million times.

I’ve got to say something about the performances as well. Tina Fey is excellent, of course… so much so that it really feels like she’s playing herself. She’s not Liz Lemon here. Her character is not a fish out of water – she’s a fish in completely comfortable water, and that’s the problem. Paul Rudd is so comfortable in this role that I found myself wondering if anyone else could have played it. It couldn’t be more in his wheelhouse. It’s perfect for him, but he’s never on autopilot. Also, Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn, two comedy vets, play it fairly dramatic and are great. Special kudos to Nat Wolff, who plays an auto-didactical genius  and holds his own with these giants.

Is ADMISSION perfect? No, not even close. If anything, it could be a little gutsier. It tends to try to straddle the rom-com/indie fence a little too much for me. It seems to be trying to appeal to the DATE NIGHT core audience as well as the AWAY WE GO crowd, and its identity is a little tough to nail down. That being said, I loved it. I found myself respecting the characters, which is a rare thing. At the end, Janna was crying, I was smiling, and we both loved it.

ADMISSION is about character, self-examination, motherhood, sacrifice, and messiness. It’s a film where adults have to confront being adults, and they have to figure out what that means in their own context.

ADMISSION gets four Ugandan orphans out of five. Watch it.

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