2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars
Arguably the smartest, most socially aware and politically astute female comedy writer of all time, Tina Fey is also a woman other women claim they never see in movies or on TV. Pretty but not drop-dead gorgeous and in possession of what can be rightfully called an average figure, Fey is the approachable everywoman smart men find irresistible and all women consider (for lack of a better word) real.
Because her humor is generally high-brow and her delivery often caustic, Fey will never be mistaken for girl-next-door-types like Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts and thus will never be much of a bankable, high-return, warm and fuzzy leading lady. She'll forever make movies like "Admission" (and maybe another TV show like "30 Rock") and be quite content in being pure with her art.
Although she didn't write it, "Admission" has Fey's fingerprints all over it and it's easy to see why she took the gig. In it she plays Portia, an admissions administrator for Princeton University. Not quite married to her job, Portia is in a 10-year-long relationship with British professor Mark (Michael Sheen) which seems to be in its final phase.
As we are soon to find out, Portia's attitude toward life in the abstract and men in general bears a strong resemblance to that of her rough-hewn writer mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin), a former hippie who can't be bothered when it comes to ... everything. The Tina Fey of her day, Tomlin thoroughly resists the temptation to soften Susannah for the purpose of sucking up to the audience and is the most interesting and complex character in the film.
Although she'd say otherwise, Portia quite likes the power that comes with her job; the ability to recommend less than one percent of applicants looking to get into Princeton. Because the New Jersey state university has slipped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the national college rankings, Portia decides to accept an invitation from John (Paul Rudd), the founder of a progressive, organically minded high school not far from where Susannah lives.
Used to delivering a canned speech to fawning audiences ready to do literally anything to get into Princeton, Portia is challenged and not in a good way by John's students, most of whom don't care for her schools' rigid policies and elitist underpinnings. Already knowing this, John really asks Portia to come for the sole purpose of meeting Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), his star pupil and the only one actually wanting to go to Princeton. Exactly why John is pushing Jeremiah on Portia is revealed toward the end of the first act and while not completely mind-blowing, it does provide a nice welcome twist to the story.
Adapting the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, screenwriter Karen Croner tries maybe a little too much to channel Fey by turning what should be straight drama into farce comedy. Despite the often awkward approach this works out OK but still hamstrings the narrative enough to make the whole thing feel a tad uneven. Director Paul Weitz faced this same kind of bittersweet challenge with the similarly themed "About a Boy" from 2002 which resulted in slightly better results.
Despite the happy/sad tone, Croner and Weitz are able to sufficiently wrap up all of the loose plot threads, but given the huge strength of the premise and initial setup (and the gift of Fey as their lead) "Admission" ends with a nagging feeling of unrealized greatness. (Focus Features)