(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on March 22, 2013.)
What do you do when you’re watching a movie that doesn’t really challenge you, offend you, or do anything to provoke any kind of visceral response, yet manages to be sweet? This is the debate I’m having as I recount my thoughts about Admission. While stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have been in obviously edgier fare, this vanilla slice of I-don’t-know-what has me wondering about the eternal debate between enjoyable and non-recommendable. Or maybe it’s that one has to accept the film on its own terms and not for what one wishes it would be.
If I could wish it would be something else, it would be to make it funnier. There’s not a decent belly laugh in the whole movie, considering the two comedic leads this movie sports. However, Admission seems more of a drama upon second thought; a dubious morality play, if you will. How far would you go to make sure your child is happy? It’s a question with which Portia Nathan (Fey) has to wrestle, after finding out that Jeremiah Balakian (Nat Wolff) – a child she might have given up for adoption in college – is applying to Princeton, where she is on the admissions team. John Pressman (Rudd), Jeremiah’s headmaster, also seems to be wrestling with that question, as his relationship between his adopted son Nelson (Travaris Spears) and himself seems to be at odds. Even Portia’s mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin) has some unresolved parenting issues, some of which she credits with making Portia an even better woman.
Generally, movies like this are what I call “inflight movies” – cute, inoffensive, in one ear and out the other, and almost forgettable once you’re done with it. Movies like these don’t usually change your life, and they certainly don’t change cinema history. What they are capable of, however, is showing off one possible side of life that you may not normally see. While Admission is a little bit schmaltzy, overwrought, and a little predictable, it’s nice to see a calming alternative to something like, say, 21 and Over. Here’s a film where responsibility is shown to be an honorable thing, with little to no reward. Even though Portia may not know for sure that Jeremiah is her child, she still tries to step up and do right by him, going to the furthest lengths that a mother can go for her child in order to see that he gets a shot at what he wants to do with his life.
That, to me, is the biggest part of the comedy. Without revealing the ending, the film’s got a little bit of a slap in the face that is either something to laugh at or something that ruins the entire movie; I’m really not sure how to take it. It’s not made funny enough to warrant a huge laugh, but it’s not played serious enough for drama. And that’s what I have to say about Admission – the film is really neither here nor there. It’s just another movie to pass 117 minutes of your time, with a few little morals to throw your way about being responsible and being yourself.