"Virginia Woolf was a twat, extremely overrated, no Getrude Stein. I'll have a breast."
Tina Fey is a force to be reckoned with on the small screen. As head writer for Saturday Night Live, she oversaw one of the show's renaissance periods in the early 00s, and as creator & star of 30 Rock, she forged a path for the smart, single camera comedy that has become a staple of prime time television. On the big screen, however, her work has been sadly met with indifference from the movie going public. Apart from her gig as the writer of Mean Girls, most of her starring vehicles have floundered, and its unfortunate that her most recent film, Admission, has gone the same way, as it's arguably her best film yet.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Admission tells the story of Princeton admissions officer Portian Nathan (Fey), a career driven woman working in a high pressure job at the top University in the country. When Princeton loses its number one ranking from US News & World Report, she is charged by the Dean of Admissions (Wallace Shawn) to find spectacular new freshman to elevate the school's standing once again.
One such student falls into her lap courtesy of old college acquaintance John (Paul Rudd) who runs an alternative high school in New Hampshire called Quest. His prized student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), is about to begin his college search, and John is desperate for Portia to take a look at him. He doesn't seem like Princeton material, though, and John's true motives come to light when he tells Portia that he thinks Jeremiah is the son she gave up for adoption when they were in undergrad together.
Portia is dealt a further blow when her longtime boyfriend (Michael Sheen) leaves her for a woman he's been having an affair with. So between her relationship crisis, the information about her possible son & increasing pressure at work, Portia's life seems as if it's going to unravel.
The thing that I love most about this film is how well it manages this balancing act with equal parts humor and realistic pathos. It's no surprise that it comes from Paul Weitz, the director of another similarly underrated film, About a Boy. Unlike that film where Hugh Grant's character in that film was dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood, here is a woman who on the surface has her life together, but secretly harbors the fear that she really doesn't, and Fey is perfect in the role.
The major thought that I had throughout almost the entire film was that it shouldn't work as well as it does. It seems so cliched pairing this driven career woman with Paul Rudd's flighty, worldly eco-warrior, and all of the film's themes come to a head when she helps John & Jeremiah birth a cow, a scene that should have sent me running for the aisles for all of its obvious heavy-handedness, but somehow it worked. I think that what made scenes like that work is that they never linger. The film is packed with scenes that seem like they will collapse the film with the obviousness of their meaning, but they move so quickly that nothing feels forced because they don't dwell on the themes the way other movies would.
The film also has a nice third-act turn that helped to alleviate some of the obviousness that was in the air. I won't risk spoiling anything, but I was a big fan of the way that the last half hour of the film artfully wove its way through all of the themes that they had been dealing with. I was actively expecting two things to happen which didn't, and I was pleasantly surprised that it managed to avoid falling into a hole that it seemed to have dug for itself.
The performances are great, particularly Fey & Rudd. They're both world-class comic actors, right at home in this sort of film, and watching them interact with one another was great. Sheen was also a lot of fun in his role as a spineless intellectual who did everything in his power to avoid conflict. Lily Tomlin is fantastic as Portia's mom, the epitome of everything that Portia is rebelling against in her own life, and frankly it's just nice to see her on screen again.
The film's script by Karen Croner is efficient & witty without ever feeling forced, and Weitz's direction compliments it nicely at every turn. The way that the film uses montage is great, particularly early on when Portia is reading applications & touring around various high schools. It all works together incredibly well. The film's score was done by Stephen Trask, who co-wrote the music for Hedwig & The Angry Inch, and the best compliment I can pay it is that you would never know that if you weren't already aware.
As with most of the film's that I've really liked this year, this one has had trouble finding an audience as well, which is sad. I feel as though people are more than willing to pay money to see schlock, but whenever something small and genuine comes along, it's met with indifference. This is a perfect date movie because it can be enjoyed by both sexes equally, and that's something you would never find in a Nicholas Sparks film. If it's still playing, do yourself a favor and go see Admission. It's a lovely little film.
GO Rating: 3.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]