dir. Paul Weitz
Release Date: Mar 22, 13
There’s really no reason not to like Paul Rudd. He’s an all around likable guy; he smiles, so do we. He stumbles, we laugh. He makes a mediocre film, we likely see it. This is why it’s okay to sit through his resume’s weaker spots, fluff like Overnight Delivery, The Object of My Affection, The Oh in Ohio, Dinner for Schmucks or even How Do You Know. He sells you on whatever character he’s playing and, more often than not, he’s the only beacon of light in a dismal, “less than” picture–a trend that kicked off with his admirable debut performance as Tommy Doyle in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.
Something like Admission doesn’t really scream danger for Rudd. For one, it’s Tina Fey’s first post-30 Rock performance, the always-fabulous Lily Tomlin has a key role in it and About a Boy director Paul Weitz stands behind the lens. Being realistic, just having Fey and Rudd as the anchor stars should be enough to sell this picture on quality alone, which explains why its ultra-campy poster has their two smug, smiling heads on it, something that would no doubt elicit scoffs and an eye roll from Liz Lemon.
Here’s a quick summation: Fey plays Princeton admissions officer Portia Newman, a veteran in her field, who’s up for a major promotion after working there for 16 years. Everything’s just sugar until Rudd’s John Pressman, head of an alternative-thinking school, introduces her to a gifted individual dead set on attending the New Jersey institution. The catch? This person might be her son, too.
It’s a story that relies on coincidences, strange fates and happenstance, yet that’s actually not the problem. Instead, the film’s flaws lie in Karen Croner’s patchy screenplay, one that takes its source material (in this case, Jean Hanff Koreitz’ intriguing novel about the admission process) and hammers in predictable characters and questionable arcs. Rudd’s Pressman is both charming and enjoyable, but only because he’s played with such activism. On paper he’s a mess, with threads that feel serviceable to the story and unrealistic in scope. Fey’s Newman is even worse, especially her unbelievable ignorance toward her longtime lover, played by the ever-hilarious Michael Sheen. Both characters meander under Croner’s blanket of mystery, which only gets pulled when it’s convenient and, by then, irresolute.
Issues aside, there’s a lot of heart to Admission. What really works is the chemistry between Rudd and Fey. It’s remarkable the two haven’t worked together in the past, as they’re quite comfortable around each other. Fey’s fragility gets scooped up by Rudd’s humanity, and it’s a delightful saving grace. The same goes for Tomlin, who plays Fey’s feminist mother, a nice cross between Michael Caine in Children of Men and Every Quirky Mother in a Romantic Comedy. To her credit, Croner supplies Tomlin with a couple of zingers, which do a nice job eroding the character’s unnecessary, forgettable twists.
Other notables include Wallace Shawn’s weasel of a Dean, Nat Wolff’s modest autodidactic Jeremiah, and the adorable Travaris Spears, who plays Rudd’s hilarious adopted child. All inject just enough adrenaline into the flimsy screenplay to eek out something worthy of a few gasps and yuks. So no, it’s not all on Rudd’s shoulders this time around. There’s plenty here to keep it away from the shelf space occupied by his aforementioned string of mediocre disasters. It’s just a shame it couldn’t have been more of a rewarding picture given the talent involved. Then again, if you’re apt to champion Rudd or even Fey in any of their number of projects, it’s unlikely you’ll stamp deny on Weitz’ Admission.