Tina Fey Difficult to Get Into in ‘Admission’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Tina Fey, love her. Paul Rudd, like his work, he’s a Judd Apatow guy. Wallace Shawn in “The Princess Bride,” exquisite. Lily Tomlin is a comedy legend. All these great and interesting performers participated in “Admission,” for which they all get an “F.”

“Admission” takes us into the scintillating world of assessing who will be the Freshman class at Princeton University. This subject would seem to be ripe for parody in this age of super aggressive helicopter parents and overachieving, socially inept scholars – but no – it is a limp romantic melodrama light on the romance. It features Tina Fey in her first role post Liz Lemon and “30 Rock,” but literally gives her nothing to do but pout, sigh and pretend her character wasn’t created from a screenwriter’s wheel of fortune. Paul Rudd is weirdly cast as a do-gooder who has traveled the world, adopted a Ugandan orphan and runs a progressive secondary school. Oh, that side of Paul Rudd we’ve been aching to see. Nobody comes out of the this film without some minor embarrassment, this is the cinematic equivalent of a dead fish handshake, wet hand and all.

Portia (Tina Fey) is a hard-charging admissions official at old Princeton U. She is well respected, and has a proper 10 year relationship with her live-in lover Mark (Michael Sheen). She gets involved with a potential Princeton candidate named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) who goes to a progressive high school run by John Pressman (Paul Rudd). It is revealed her relationship with Jeremiah is a little deeper, and could compromise her objectivity as admissions officer.

Tina Fey, Paul Rudd
Portia (Tina Fey) and John (Paul Rudd) Come Clean in ‘Admission’
Photo credit: Focus Features

After coming home from a recruiting trip, Mark decides to leave her for another woman, and Portia’s buttoned-up life begins to unravel. Her mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin) is no help, and John Pressman is putting on more pressure to get Jeremiah into Princeton. When it comes down to picking this Freshman class, admissions officer Portia has more than she bargained for.

Director Paul Weitz is a mystery. He directed last year’s excellent “Being Flynn,” but also directed this dead fish, and other strange flops such as “Little Fockers” and “American Dreamz.” This film simply has no energy, all of the performances are strangled by the tepid melodrama. The stereotypes of the characters – the do-goodness of Rudd, the buttoned down Fey character and Tomlin’s overdone first wave feminist (who of course softens by the end) are all seemingly generated by a screenwriting program that assigns nothingness as creative tension.

Tina Fey is especially perplexing. This is like a movie they would have wickedly made fun of on “30 Rock,” perhaps having Tracy Morgan play her role in drag on the way to another Oscar. Her Portia is lifeless, and suffers because Fey is trying so darn hard to create her essence and range of personality as she finds out new revelations about herself. Is this suppose to be some kind of transition from her sharp, witty persona to a new phase as “actress”? She’s wasting a great character she has already developed. Variations on that role would be ten times more welcome than her dishwater admissions officer.

This is adapted (by Karen Croner) from a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, and it’s a miracle this story got through book and movie form. There is nothing to care about 18 old applicants to a snooty Ivy League college (Princeton might regret their decision to use the actual name), and especially there is nothing to care about the admission officers that get them there. There is one enjoyable trick in the film – as the students are assessed they actually appear in the room, and when rejected fall through a trap door. See you at the University of Massachusetts, sucker.

Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin
Portia and Susannah (Lily Tomlin) Have Mother-Daughter Time in ‘Admission’
Photo credit: Focus Features

The leading man, Paul Rudd, is very confused in his part, the character desperately needs the edge of a Judd Apatow to give him something to do (anything!). He and Fey have no chemistry, mostly because we can tell that Fey cannot convince us that she is a frustrated single person with no children, because she isn’t. Their “love” scenes are as hot as Chicago asphalt in January.

This film, if successful, could lead to other bureaucrats as film protagonists. Next up is “Barb in Accounting,” starring Tina Fey as a diplomatic numbers cruncher during the economic meltdown. Wait a minute, that actually sounds interesting, which is more than can be admitted about “Admission.”

“Admission” opens everywhere on March 22th. Featuring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff and Lily Tomlin. Screenplay adapted by Karen Croner. Directed by Paul Weisz. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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