Admission review: screwball smart
A romantic dramedy about a passionate erudite oddball woman with her own life? Hooray!
I’m “biast” (pro):
love Fey and Rudd
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Wait, what’s this? A romantic dramedy about a smart woman with her own life who isn’t present in the story merely to aid some messed-up man on his path to being a better person? Hooray!
But Admission is even better than that. Portia Nathan (Tina Fey: Megamind, Date Night) is an admissions officer at Princeton University. John Pressman (Paul Rudd: This Is the End, How Do You Know) is the head teacher/administrator at an alternative school who is advocating for one of his more unusual students to be granted a coveted spot in the upcoming freshman class. They don’t meet cute: they meet weird, when he tries to influence her by telling her that he thinks his student could be the baby she gave up for adoption when she was at college herself. (He truly believes this; he’s not being a manipulative jerk or anything.) John is almost a manic pixie dream guy for Portia, except he’s a plausibly real person, too, not a bundle of adorable quirks (though Rudd is as adorably quirky as ever). In fact, both of these charming characters are the sort of passionate erudite oddballs we might once have found in a 1930s screwball comedy and who have been all but banished from filmdom in recent decades.
And yet Admission — based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — is wonderfully down-to-earth, as Portia contends with a sort of non-catty female professional rivalry that is all too real yet hardly ever depicted onscreen, and copes with the challenges to the objectivity her job requires as presented by the might-be-her-son applicant, and faces midlife-crisis questions such as “Did I make the right choices for myself?”
Yeah, women worry about this, too. Not that Teh Movies typically give us much of a hint of that.
This is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it’s a cheery film nevertheless, a refreshing all-around defense of true nonconformity that’s not about dyeing your hair a funky color or twirling around in the street for no reason, as some other flicks would have us see as the totality of “nonconformity,” but more about the classical definition of freethought. Admission knows that being a weirdo isn’t necessarily about what you look like but what’s going on in your head, which we see via John’s students and in the way that both John and Portia are living their lives (though she needs a bit of a push in that direction). The film makes no excuses for itself or its characters, even when they behave less than admirably on their path to a more enlightened wisdom, and it has the courage of its convictions, recognizing that being an oddball comes with a price.
I love this movie, and I wish there were more like it.