Thursday, March 28, 2013

Worth the price of 'admission'





How much a film is enjoyed is often all about expectations. "Admission," from its poster to its trailers, is being marketed as a romantic comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. Even most of the reviews are describing it that way, and the consensus seems to be it isn't a very good one. That's because it isn't a romantic comedy.

Fey stars as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer, who, as the film opens, is dumped by her pompous English professor boyfriend (Michael Sheen) and is in line for a big promotion if the current admissions cycle goes well.

Richard Roeper in his review of "Admission" said "the whole college admissions process seems more suited for a drama than a comedy." And yet, much of the film does lean more toward drama than outright comedy.

"Admission, " based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, is a film that falls perfectly under the label of comedy/drama or dramedy. The characters are often witty, funny and charming, but this isn't a film stringing together a series of punchlines or comic set pieces.

As was true of director Paul Weitz other films, such as "About a Boy" and "In Good Company," "Admission" is, generally speaking, more interested in exploring emotions and studying characters than going for easy laughs. The title isn't just in reference to college admissions, but to characters admitting things to themselves and others.

When Rudd's John Pressman, who runs an alternative school in New Hampshire, enters the picture, it seems the film is set up to be just another standard romantic comedy. Indeed a sweet, low-key flirtation develops between Fey and Rudd, but that is just one aspect of the film.

John believes one of his students (Nat Wolff) is the son that Portia gave up for adoption. How this information affects Portia, allowing her to awkwardly get in touch with her long-dormant maternal instincts, is the driving force of the story.

The student, Jeremiah, is a prodigy, but his grades don't reflect his brilliant mind. Jeremiah wants to go to Princeton and Portia cannot remain objective through the screening process. She begins fighting hard for him to be accepted into the Ivy League university.

One of the most refreshing things about "Admission" is that it side steps predictability. Toward the end of the film there are scenes that seem as if they will played out in a familiar, formulaic manner and, surprisingly, they don't. Instead, these scenes go for something more honest and truthful.

Few actors working today are better than Fey and Rudd at delivering sharp, clever dialogue, but the film also allows them to showcase more serious sides. While the film doesn't delve into the realm of dark, heavy drama, it does offer a serious-minded look at parental dynamics. Portia has a strained relationship with her ultra-feminist mother (Lily Tomlin) and John is struggling to be a good father to his adopted son (Travaris Spears).

Tomlin gives a great supporting performance. It is a feisty, sardonic performance that earns some of the film's bigger laughs. As a mother, Tomlin's character is cold and distant, which allows for some effective dramatic moments with Fey.

Spears gives a nice performance, too. He isn't required to just be a cute kid, but, instead is treated as an adult. His interactions with Fey and Rudd feel natural and unforced.

Not everything in the film works. Scenes peppered throughout the film involving Sheen feel out of step with the tone of the rest of the film. The writing paired with a surprisingly cartoony performance from the normally stellar Sheen makes these scenes very sitcom-y. It is the only time the film goes for cheap laughs.

"Admission" is already being dismissed as a box office bomb, which is a shame because the film deserves to find an audience. This is a sweet, funny adult-minded drama and there are people who want to see that. Too bad those marketing the film didn't trust their product enough to realize that.

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