One of the things I love about movies is the many ways to tell the same story. Think about how many, say, romantic comedies you’ve seen in your life. While the core of the plot is always basically the same, the journey to get there and the framing of the relationship varies wildly. What is mildly irritating is when a film starts off as being about something else and then switches into a stealth romcom.
Ostensibly, “Admission” is about Tina Fey’s rather uptight Princeton admissions officer Portia and her side of the notoriously difficult
admission process. In reality, it’s the story of a woman who becomes progressively more broken as she retreats into the insular world of her job and how the principal of a “alternative” education school and his student prodigy (Paul Rudd and Nat Wolff respectively) impact her world. Lily Tomilin and Michael Sheen also star as both the cause and salvation of her personal implosion.
That this film does feature a love story is not surprising. When you have two likable leads as Fey and Rudd, pairing them as romantic foils is an obvious move. But, what really works here is that their romance is for the bulk of the movie purely incidental. Yes there’s flirting, and banter and all of the usual suspects but it’s all viewed through the lens of this gifted boy’s journey to Princeton. There is actually more to that side of the story but they play more like the typical misunderstandings that are part and parcel with these types of films.
The under the radar aspect of the love story though is really the only problematic part of this film. That it oscillates from front-burner to backburner for the bulk of the film is what makes it grating. As I said, the coupling is likable enough- I’m beginning to think I’ll like Fey in nearly anything- but this movie either doesn’t know what it is, or is trying to be something it isn’t. It’s a non-nefarious wolf in sheep’s clothing which makes for an uneven experience.
Two acting mentions at this point, Lily Tomlin and Nat Wolff own every scene they’re in. Tomlin is a genius is so many ways. Despite that she’s a comedic icon, she really raises the game of everyone she shares a scene with. Wolff on the other hand is still coming into his own as an actor after 4 years on Disney’s “Naked Brothers Band,” but he really holds his own. It’s clear that his instincts are still evolving but are already up to a pretty high standard.
But, even the best acting can’t save a rather bland story. Even the humor peppered throughout isn’t anything to make you stand up and cheer. But, a cute story with a new and interesting framing device makes for an enjoyable film. In the long run it won’t be remembered as more than a fluff piece but it’s an enjoyable piece of fluff. If anything seeing this film for the acting alone is the way to go. B-