Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Admission" Fails to Stand Out

The shower scene was necessary. Because of the cow placenta.
Admission is a decent enough flick. It’s professionally made and has many of the things you’d look for in a good film, including a likable cast, a solid setup and worthwhile themes.

It stars Tina Fey as a Princeton admissions officer who simultaneously discovers that her live-in boyfriend of nearly a decade (Michael Sheen) is leaving her for the snooty English scholar he impregnated and that one of her kookier admits (Nat Wolff) may be the child she secretly gave up for adoption back in college. Oh, and all of this turmoil is coming right in the thick of the busiest season for admissions, during which she’ll be vying to replace the retiring dean (Wallace Shawn).

The film also stars Lily Tomlin as Fey’s typically atypical mom and Paul Rudd as a romantic sparring partner and a teacher at the alternative school Fey’s possible son attends. And it makes some nice points about regret, parenting and the cruel and arbitrary guidelines used by college admission offices.

All in all, everything is very… amiable – amiable actors playing amiable characters in an amiable story by an amiable filmmaker (Paul Weitz). However, there’s not much takeaway beyond that general “meh, yeah, okay” feeling. It’s fitting that a movie that disparages the callousness of an admissions process that critiques students for how interesting and unique they are would be so competently ordinary, so readily unmemorable.

Although she's playing the clichéd wacky parent, Tomlin brings 
a nice energy to the film and kills her one dramatic scene.
That is perhaps somewhat harsher than it needs to be. Fey and Rudd share a nice chemistry, the messages play well enough, and there’s something to be said for the restraint the film shows in not wrapping an artificial bow around what would undoubtedly be a messy and anticlimactic situation.

In the film’s best sequence, the admissions staff meet to select next year’s batch of students, and, in so doing, they discuss the idea that they can only invest in so many on-the-bubble students.

With movies, it often works the same way. There’s always time for the big cinematic attractions that a Spielberg, Tarantino or Scorcese might make, but when it comes to these lower-wattage entries, there needs to be a certain vitality that sells the thing and gets it over the hump.

Films like Take This Waltz, Beginners, or Weitz’s own About a Boy manage to make the cut. Films like Admissions – well, they’re destined for the safety school that is basic cable. C