Archive for the ‘John’ Category

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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The year was 1995. I’d just graduated from high school, and to bridge the summer gap, I was working at a swanky restaurant called Steak & Ale. I was a short timer – I knew that I’d be moving to Arkansas in a couple of months for college, but I needed something to do in the meantime. At Steak & Ale I was a busboy and, get this, a salad bar attendant. The salad bar job paid 50 cents an hour more than bussing. I was good at my job.

That summer was chocked full of expectation and hope for something new. I never liked high school, mostly because I wanted to fit in so badly that I never could decide who I actually was. That’s called going about it backwards. *Sigh*

Up to this point, I’d had exactly one girlfriend. She’d broken my heart a year or so before, and I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else to give me a shot (not that I actually asked, you understand). I’d given up on Katie Furlong – when you’re out of your league, you’re out of your league. But at Steak & Ale, I met Allison Semones. Allison (also entirely out of my league, of course) smoked. I mean, she was smoking hot, of course, but she actually smoked. This was a new thing for this church boy. We were friends and I made her the obligatory mix tape or three (I was really good at that). And then one day, she invited me over to her house. Now, before I continue here, you’ve got to understand something: I had absolutely no shot with this girl. None. And I knew it. But I didn’t care one measly bit. That night, we watched a movie and just generally hung out. But here’s what’s stuck fast in my memory: this time she’d made me a mix tape. I’ve still got it somewhere, I think. And while I couldn’t tell you the track listing, I’ll never forget one particular song from it.

After dark, we went outside and lay in the back of her pick-up and listened to the tape. She hit play, and I heard the voice of Emily Saliers or Amy Ray (I never knew which) telling a story about being a kid and buying a ring for a boy because “it seemed the thing to do,” followed by what’s still my favorite song of theirs, “Least Complicated.” That was my introduction to Indigo Girls. I left for college that fall and said goodbye to Allison, but Emily and Amy have never been able to shake me.

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Now, the year is 2013 and I was in Nashville to hear one of my heroes, Neil Gaiman, read from his new book. I met my friend Matt Conner just before show time and we ended up on the back row. That was just fine with me. Matt’s a good friend and one I don’t get to see very often. Neil was on his last signing tour ever.

I’d told myself (and anyone who would listen) that I didn’t care about an autograph. What I really wanted was a picture with Neil. Autographs hold no mystery or mystique for me. But a picture, one I can make my Facebook profile picture… now that I can truck with. I knew from talking to Kelly (our fourth hand around here) that it was going to be a late night if I waited in line to see Neil. I also knew, because he said it over and over, that these late nights of signings were killing Neil. He mentioned how he’d had to ice his arm lately just to dull the pain.

Matt and I drank up Neil’s droll, dry humor with divine smiles on our faces throughout. When the thunderstorm outside raged, Neil told us that he’d promised himself that if a thunderstorm happened during one of these shows, he’d read a special passage from the book – the one that happens during a storm. We were the only stop on the tour to get this passage. Every other city had heard a part from the beginning of the novel. We got a part from the middle, and it was deliciously scary.

Then, when we knew the evening was coming to a close, I realized that there had been a second chair on the stage the entire time. During his customary Q&A session, Neil called out a friend from backstage to help him out with something. We knew it was a musician, but until the last second, we were in the dark as to his identity. When Neil said that his friend Bela Fleck was going to accompany him on the banjo while he read from his new, new book, “Fortunately, the Milk,” the joint flipped out. We were a lucky city, Nashville. Nobody else got this part. Neil was wry and wonderful. Bela was plinky and light. It was magical.

Then the show was over. And I had a decision to make. I could stay to see Neil. Matt said he’d hang with me, but I knew that it was going to be a late night. I still had a two and a half hour drive home, too. Matt said I could crash with him and then drive home the next morning. And I’d get my picture with Neil!

But then I thought about it. I thought about Neil’s arm hurting. I though about how little I get to see Matt. I thought about how good a cup of coffee sounded right then. So I made my decision. I’d spare Neil a few seconds of time, and instead, I’d live for the present, not for a picture.

Matt and I went out for pizza and we caught up on years of a neglected friendship. We talked about books we were reading and records we loved. We planned what show we’d see together next. It was lovely. I’d almost missed it for a picture.

I got to my car at about 11:00 and headed home. It’s a lonely drive from Nashville to Knoxville at night. It’s dark. Very dark. And it was rainy. I hadn’t brought any music with me – I left in such a hurry that I plum forgot. So I scanned the FM dial for public radio. Maybe I’d get lucky. And boy howdy, did I.

That night, Nashville’s public radio station was channeling CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, a sort of Canadian Fresh Air. And after a delightful interview with Rick Moranis, Jian played his interview with the Indigo Girls and I was cast into the vivacity and breadth of their catalogue. Emily and Amy were redolent with the light of social change and their love and admiration for each other. They made me forget how lovely that road can be.

And it struck me again. If I’d stayed to get that picture with Neil, I’d have missed this moment. This intimate moment of crackly radio that led me back home through the gloomy night.

What’s a picture? What’s a picture of me with an author but a posed memory? Instead of hours of waiting for thirty seconds with my hero, I got an hour or two with my friend. Instead of being able to change my twitter avatar (for what?), I got to participate in a march through the night with two beautiful women. Instead of a fake memory, I got two real ones.

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I have a picture somewhere of that night in Allison’s pick up. I shot it on black and white film and it’s exposed poorly. You can see her face, but that’s about all. I’ve no idea where it is – probably in a box somewhere in the attic. But what I remember – what’s indelible – is hearing that song in the night. The Indigo Girls stayed long after Allison was gone. And go figure, there they were again, on another dark night, to sing me home.

Turns out I made the right decision. Sometimes the hardest things to learn are the least complicated.