Now is the time of the year when there isn’t a lot worth spending money on at movie theaters. The first three months of the year are usually chock full of half-hearted horror pictures, a few CGI-stuffed action movies and a slew of lackluster family comedies that have been sitting on the shelf for a year. The films in theaters now are second- or third-string films, often riding on the charisma of their stars or the popularity of a franchise, the type that might make it to TBS on a Saturday afternoon before quickly fading from memory.
“Admission” is the perfect example of the early-spring release. It’s mostly harmless, providing a chuckle here and there, charming enough due to the likability of the leads, but ultimately a minor drop in the bucket of 2013 comedies. At current prices, it’s certainly not worth a night out. Wait a few months and rent it for a night in and it might be a nice combo with frozen mozzarella sticks.
Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is an admissions officer at Princeton whose job is to screen applicants for quality and retention. This is a film where the difficulty of college comes from gaining entrance to a choice school rather than the greater hurdle of paying for four years of Ivy League education. Students need the right combination of grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and ethnicity to make the cut. It also helps to have a great story of overcoming the odds—dead parents or isolation in the Aleutian Islands is a key factor in winning a prize spot. And that’s how the process is treated.
College admission is a game show and these kids are competing. It’s Portia’s job to travel to various prep schools and plug the university, offering tips and tricks to give the children of the privileged the best chance to go to the school of their choice. God forbid these students settle for a state school.
Over the course of the film, Portia encounters John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a Dartmouth graduate, world traveler and teacher at the Quest School, which appears to focus on free thinking and farm work. John attempts to pressure Portia into helping a student of his gain admission, leading to hijinks and warm-hearted revelations.
If it wasn’t for the charisma of Fey and Rudd, the film would be much harder to sit through. Fey’s characteristic self-deprecation and Rudd’s disarming demeanor are enough to carry any film. By this measure alone, the film is worth seeing. But the plot is derivative of any number of films and it really doesn’t amount to much.
I’d have enjoyed a stronger focus on the frustrations of the admission process rather than the typical rom-com situations we’ve seen in dozens of other films. It seemed a bit disingenuous for the writers to ignore the costs of college, especially at such schools as Princeton. Portia’s main student comes from a family of mini-mart workers and the film makes no mention of how they intend to pay for his philosophy degree.
“Admission” is the type of film where it seems like the writers pull occupations and complications out of a hat and write a linear story without much thought. Anything that might be too serious or real is ignored. And that’s OK, I suppose. “Admission” could have been worse and that it’s not better isn’t a mortal sin. A quick prayer and it’ll be summer in no time.