Written by Karen Croner
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and Lily Tomlin
Portia Nathan: Just be yourself, because who else could you be? That’s who you’re stuck with.
Full disclosure, ADMISSION has a very obvious premise. Tina Fey stars as a Princeton admissions officer who denies people entrance professionally. Naturally, we know before the movie even begins that she will ultimately have to learn how to let down her walls and let people into her own lonely life. Not to sound too cynical but what contemporary romantic comedy doesn’t reveal its hand to you right upfront? The trick isn’t to avoid doing this though. No, to make a romantic comedy transcend its own conventions, you have to get creative with how you get from point A to point B. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone as funny, and as savvy, as Fey leading the way.
Fey’s Portia Nathan thinks her life is set. She has been working for Princeton for more than 15 years; she has a functional, childless (read, boring) relationship with a university professor (played by Michael Sheen, who was also great opposite Fey on “30 Rock” as another mismatched mate); and she is up for a promotion for her dream job as the head of the admissions department. With that set-up properly established, we can watch each of these elements fall apart when she meets John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a principal at a new progressive school she is checking out for applications. This is where ADMISSION breaks from tradition and solidifies itself as a cut above the rest. Meeting John may disarm her but not because she realizes her life is dull and she has never really known love before that moment. Instead, she is thrown by her own past, which John is privy to and reminds her of.
Under Paul Weitz’s (ABOUT A BOY) direction, Portia’s journey is a personal one, even though it is still a familiar one. Instead of scene after scene of Fey and Rudd comedically trying to avoid what they feel for each other, ADMISSION is more about Portia battling her own demons so that she can actually see the path to happiness in her own life. Rudd’s John naturally has his own intimacy issues to work out too but they never take on as much significance as Portia’s do. As a result, they feel more like two people who are working through their own things who happen to find each other along the way instead of just two people pushed together for the purposes of the picture.