While Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have done just fine on their own comedically, the winning comedy Admission feels like a grad school course in wit run by two consummate professionals. It’s a team-up that’s so inspired and natural feeling it’s astounding no one had thought of it sooner.
Fey stars as Portia Nathan, a high level admissions officer for Princeton University recently dumped by her aloof boyfriend (Michael Sheen) and constantly belittled by her acerbic and headstrong mother (Lily Tomlin). After begrudgingly travelling to a New Hampshire alternative school following a call by a teacher (Rudd) to see an academically fledgling prodigy (Nat Wolff), she learns that the young man might just be the child she gave up for adoption back when she was in university.
Director Paul Weitz (In Good Company, About a Boy) certainly knows his way around this style of sincere, situational based comedy, but Rudd and Fey (and their estimable supporting cast) make this otherwise pleasant diversion into something truly special. Fey’s penchant for playing uptight characters that sort of fumble through their daily lives allows for Rudd’s effortless, laid back charisma to act as a perfect foil. The comedic chemistry between these two is off the charts, even though the romance that has to blossom between them is a bit harder to buy into, especially during the film’s final act where things take a turn for the serious and a dubious plot twist never gets fully answered.
Aside from the obvious allure of talented people doing what they do best, Admission also manages some really astute moments during its take down of overzealous parents and students who use secondary education more as a tool for networking and status rather than as a personal betterment or to hone a craft. It’s so fearless in that message that it’s surprising that a university like Princeton would allow their name to be associated with the film. Portia’s stand-offish nature becomes understandable, and Wolff does such a great job gaining sympathy from the audience as the brilliant, but socially awkward underachiever. It’s easy to root for them.
It’s awkward and clunky in spots in terms of its plotting, but it’s also laugh out loud funny more often than not. Fey and Rudd give a masterclass in comedic chemistry, and as the film shows there should definitely be an A for effort given out here.
Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Top image: A scene from Admission. Courtesy Alliance Films.