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IN SHORT: Disappointing. [Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material. 107 minutes]
There is nothing as terrifying, for a certain subset of our teenaged population, as the gauntlet that is the College Admissions Process. There have been enough films about teenagers wanting to get into college. Director Paul Weitz' Admission uses its various sources to flip the focus and shine the light on the terrorists generally known as "The Admissions Board." While Princeton University has a large panel of professionals who debate the Application on their desks as part of the matriculation process, this film focusses on the very top of that illustrious panel. The Dean of Admissions (Wallace Shawn) has decided that he will retire at the end of the school year. The two most senior assistants to the dean will have to prove their worth, to ascend to that most powerful position. Candidate One is Portia Nathan (Tina Fey), long sacked up with the Chair of the English Department (Mark Sheen), Portia is devoted to her job and to the University. The competition is named Corinne (Gloria Reuben)
There is other competition, of the "shoulda put a ring on it" kind (sic) which sends Portia's life into a free fall that makes her double down on the hunt to find exceptional prospective students. Admissions, we learn, is not limited to evaluating applications. Just as sports coaches actively recruit "students" to build nationally recognized teams, Admission reveals that there is a similar track on the intellectual side. So enter John Pressman (Paul Rudd), Princeton alumni and former classmate of Ms. Nathan, who runs an alternative Upper School called New Quest. We're not going to even attempt to explain what "alternative" means. If it doesn't get featured in the trailer or teevee spot, we don't want to wreck the surprise.
New Quest's Director Pressman has a student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), one of those "unique" students who couldn't test well enough to get into a pre-K program and yet, there is "just something right" about the boy. Pressman is convinced that Jeremiah should be slipped into Princeton via one of those infamous back doors. The ones usually opened by large cash donations.
Not in this case.
In this case Pressman has discovered that, Once Upon A Time, undergraduate student Portia liked to party all the time. The result of all that partyiing-all-the-time blessed some anonymous couple out in the hinterlands and allowed Portia to resume her academic career. So when what may be her son's application crosses her desk -- the kid is a dolt, we'll be cruel -- what wins out? Loyalty to the University or a potential newfound motherly love?
Admission crosses the line from Comedy with a Broken Romance subplot into something entirely different. No longer comic. Not beat-you-over-the-head dramatic either, the film from here on out hangs on for dear life. Passing through all of the above in a literal flash is the great Lily Tomlin, as Fey's mother. Would that there were more of Tomlin's infamous cutting-edge analysis of situations like this, but no.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Admission, he would have paid . . .
Admission begins well and then can't hold itself together when the character's worlds go topsy turvy. Wait and rent.
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