Thursday, August 15, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Admission (2013) ***

PG-13, 107 min.
Director: Paul Weitz
Writers: Karen Croner, Jean Hanff Korelitz (novel)
Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Lily Tomlin, Travaris Spears, Gloria Rueben, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, Michael Genardy, Olek Krupa, Sonya Walger

“Admission” is a little more than your average sitcom, and in some ways it’s the same old same old. In terms of plot structure, there’s little to surprise in this story about a Princeton admissions officer who tries to get the boy she thinks is the son she agreed to abandon for adoption when she was in college into the prestigious educational institution. It all goes about the way things like these go in sitcoms. There are some funny awkward moments between the admission officer and the former Dartmouth classmate who thinks he’s found her son. There is work place comedy involving the thrilling profession of college admissions and the troubles of settling into a life with an English professor who treats you more like a pet than an equal. There’s that moment when the truth threatens to ruin everything and does ruin many things.

I’ll give the movie credit for not letting anyone off the hook. I’m not sure the Tina Fey character would be so willing to forgive the Paul Rudd character at the end of the film, but you’ve got to give the audience some of the things it wants. Michael Sheen’s character is too much of a caricature of a pompous Ivy League English professor. He’d be funnier were he more down to Earth and still ended up in the situation he does. But, for the most part the formula works and provides some laughs along the way.

I don’t think the film would’ve worked enough for me to get fully behind it without the depth behind the formula, however. Unlike so many sitcoms, this one is actually about something other than the awkward situations. The real subject of “Admission” is the way people judge each other. It’s about how we all go through our lives judging everyone we meet and know based on less information than we need. Even those people we think and should know the best we judge based on information formed long before we knew everything we know about them and therefore that shapes everything to come.

The invaluable Lily Tomlin plays Tina Fey’s mother here—rarely are two actors so well paired as parent and offspring—and neither of them have accurate judgment of each other and the reasons why they treat each other as they do. It’s rather profound how this can and must affect our lives. That insight is something that pushes this rather typical formulaic material to a level beyond its sitcom origins.

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