Nuanced and thoughtful, Admission brings us the customarily satisfying outing from director Paul Weitz: beautifully constructed, pleasing in virtually every way, compassionate, often twisting unexpectedly, and capable of lingering for days afterward in happy memory.
Today we meet Tina Fey as organized, dedicated Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (even her name is measured). Surrounded by a sea of red application folders (about 23,000 of ‘em), she and her colleagues operate within a cyclical, well-oiled machine reminiscent of a high-stakes Santa’s workshop. Portia’s life is rhythmic, ordered, established… until it’s not.
In one fell swoop one man leaves her life (her partner of ten years, played by an insufferably effective Michael Sheen), and another makes his entrance, a remarkable applicant named Jeremiah, whom she has reason to believe is the child she gave up for adoption (played by an utterly sufferable Nat Wolff). Unfortunately, Jeremiah isn’t customary Princeton material, so he’s a hard sell to the rest of the admissions committee.
But, thanks to the dogged efforts of his teacher (Paul Rudd, here finally free to be back in full glory), and no thanks to her free-spirited mother (legend Lily Tomlin), Portia undertakes to see Jeremiah accepted.
The strong characterizations are supported by a marvelous script, rife with crisp lines communicating entire worlds of experience in a single flourish; most enjoyable are the practiced responses of the aggressively-pursued admissions officers (“… and in the future, email is the appropriate form of communication.” >click< into the ear of the person still talking) juxtaposed with the emotional reactions of the applicants (“I love you!” / “I hope you die screaming.”)
Weitz characters, Admission’s being true to tradition, hold great appeal in that they’re so-often actually grown-up (well, except for Hugh Grant in About a Boy, but that was really the point of it, after all). Occasionally messed up, sure, but grown up (even the kids!). Facing problems borne of doubt and regrouping, of the junctures created when reasoned decisions take life in an unintended direction (or perhaps off the rails entirely), vs. the messes created by a refusal to embrace adulthood and meet life on life’s terms (think Charlize Theron in, well, Young Adult).
Where does being stable cross over into being boring? Adventurous into rootless… focused into closed-minded, refined into myopic, unusual into eccentric, independent into isolated? How do we know when we’ve crossed the line? And what might be foregone when the paths diverge and we choose?
While humming along a light-drama nice-movie-night wavelength, the title vibes along three quite contemplative levels ~ personal “worthiness” with regard to being accepted (literally), facing one’s past and one’s future and the road not taken, and the freedom to be found in telling one’s truth and choosing again (and vice versa).
In a Jerseylicious world of big rich housewives, quieter films such as Weitz’s can get swept under the radar, but allow this to happen to your disservice. They’re a good time, a super date option, they’ll sneak up on you little bit with just a smidge of gentle food for thought, and they’ll let you off the hook with a friendly wave and a smile.
Approach Admission at whatever level appeals to you, it’ll meet you there.