At 42, the Hollywood establishment has finally discovered Tina Fey. That’s right—the multiple award winning Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild and Grammy winner has amassed the credentials to be the lead in a comedy with enough budget and promotion behind it to become a hit. It looks like all those amazing years at Saturday Night Live (especially her devastating Sarah Palin impersonation) and 30 Rock have paid off.
Teamed with another comedy veteran, Paul Rudd (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc) as well as such talents as Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen and Wallace Shawn, Fey is ready to ascend the heights of those Hollywood Hills or come crashing down to (inevitably) more successes on the small screen.
Romantic comedy; satire on the Ivy League
Portia Nathan (Fey) leads a highly regulated, joyless life. She’s an admissions officer at Princeton, the U.S.’s highest rated school and despite having a long-time partner, Mark (Sheen), a rather stodgy intellectual and academic, she has no kids. None that she’s thought about, at least, until John Pressman (Rudd), a brash administrator at a private, free-thinking, hippie high school persuades her to visit his students and then springs it on her that his brightest lad, Jeremiah (Wolff) is likely the boy she left for adoption during a wayward year in college.
Dumped by Mark but suddenly energized by John and Jeremiah, Portia finds herself politicking for her possible son’s possible admission into Princeton. With the admission’s office in a tizzy over Princeton’s descent to number two in the national survey and the upcoming retirement of their head, Clarence (Shawn), Portia tries to get long-time rival, Corinne (Toronto’s own Gloria Reuben), to come on board as a supporter of Jeremiah’s admission.
Will Jeremiah be admitted into Princeton? Will Portia fall for John—and vice versa? Will Portia resolve her conflicts with her mother (Tomlin)? Will Corinne or Portia become Clarence’s successor? These and other questions are answered in the last quarter of Admission—and don’t expect me to tell you now!
This is Tina Fey’s starring role and you know that she’s up for the part. She puts her considerable talents into the part of Portia and consistently dominates scenes. Could she do more with Portia? Possibly—but the character is quite lightweight and it’s hard to build much sympathy for her. With impeccable timing, Fey extracts what humour there is in Portia.
Admission’s character actors—Rudd, Shawn, Reuben, Sheen—are fine, as usual but one rises above the rest. Lily Tomlin is wonderful as Fey’s feminist mother, Susannah. Every scene she’s in is funny. Here’s hoping that Fey and Tomlin appear together in another film or TV show in the near future: they have impeccable timing in scenes together and naturally play off each other with ease.
The creative team
Director Paul Weitz, most famous for the Hugh Grant starrer About a Boy and the huge hit American Pie, moves his characters effortlessly through comic set pieces and less successful scenes. The script by Karen Croner is serviceable and moderately amusing. But where’s the creative spark?
Admission should be an effervescent delight. It isn’t. Sometimes the soufflé doesn’t rise. And sometimes comedies don’t really make you laugh. Not only that, Admission misses the chance to knowingly skewer institutions worthy of being satirized.
I’d love to see Tina Fey score a massive comic hit. Admission isn’t the film to turn her into a film star. Let’s hope that she has more chances.