Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, is a mundane example of Hollywood's unambitious, toe-deep forays into the realm of Independent Romantic Comedy. It attempts to be quirky and charming, though not seriously enough to be memorable or even engaging. Laughs are few and far between, yet the emotional moments are swept off screen before they get a chance to develop. The bulk of the film is bland exchanges and plot-moving voice-over. Overall it's a harmless effort, not repugnant, yet not really worthwhile either.
Even though Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have some funny lines, and each member of the small cast gets in a decent jab at one point or another, there are just not enough punch-lines to sustain this two hour movie. The jokes are a far cry from the wittiness of Fey's claim to fame, 30 Rock, or the wackiness of Rudd's better roles, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman. In an early scene, Fey's character, Portia, assists John (Rudd) in making lame jokes while begrudgingly playing mid-wife to a cow. It's this sort of conservative “comedy” that underscores most of the attempts at humor. Lily Tomlin plays Portia's mother, Susannah, who actually has one of the better and somewhat edgier bits in the film. Still, this isn't a very funny movie, which put a lot of strain on the poorly constructed emotional backdrop.
The plot of Admission is jagged in its unfolding, with the most poignant exchanges coming out of nowhere and disappearing just as fast. I felt like John's moment of personal growth that ultimately wins Portia's heart was rushed, and that it lacked believability in terms of both cause and effect, even by rom-com standards. Their romance was sufficiently trite, complete with the now hackneyed “adopted son from Uganda” wrench thrown in the works. The son, Nelson, played by Travaris Spears, is an underdeveloped and uninspiring tertiary character who serves as a prime example of the sort of boring “risks” taken by the film. At times it did manage to be unpredictable, but only because the characters would arbitrarily behave out of line with their (admittedly limited) earlier development.
The simplistic message is contained in metaphor that is lost on no one: Portia's job as an admissions officer at Princeton is a mirror of her need to let people into her life. The extremely contrived manner by which she is forced out of her shell is forgivable, since without it this movie would have needed to be even longer than it was. At at a run-time of 117 minutes, it already drags heavily in the second and third acts. There is an enjoyable montage in the beginning where Portia imagines prospective students reading their applications to her, but it's almost all downhill from there. Save for an occasional sprinkle of Tina Fey's highly refined sense of awkward comedic timing, and Tomlin's timeless appeal, there's not much to like about this movie.
The fundamental problem with Admission is that it doesn't try hard enough, which is ironic for a movie about getting into Princeton. By playing it safe on all fronts, it never gave itself a chance to succeed. It's not as hard to watch as movies that swing for the fences and strike out, but I certainly wouldn't write it a recommendation letter.