Fey stars as an Ivy League admissions officer who is drawn by unorthodox teacher Paul Rudd to an alternative school student as a potential candidate for her college. When it turns out that the kid is her long-lost son, we have a good set-up for comedy as the competitive careerist becomes an obsessive parent and tries everything to get her kid admitted.
Admittance, not the poster’s sly sideways glances, denial and “letting someone in”, is the key to Admission, a smart movie about gaining admission to that which we want directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy). Oversimplified and reduced to a Rudd-Fey relationship, the marketing doesn’t do right by the warm, brisk film, which ought to be something of a breakthrough for Fey. For the record, and I know I’m out of the cultural mainstream, my awareness of Tina Fey’s work — I do not watch her TV shows, which do not appeal to me — is confined to snippets of her Sarah Palin impressions.
I like Fey, who can seem somewhat bland and unexceptional, in this movie. Her character, jilted by a partner (Michael Sheen) and treated horribly by a lousy mother (Lily Tomlin, who can act, finally acting again), grows. She is damaged, thanks to a cruel, humanity-hating feminist of a mother, who lectures on Frida Kahlo and quotes Erica Jong, so, on some level, she’s convinced herself that she’s no good, let alone a good potential parent.
This is where admittance comes in. As she visits the high school where she meets the boy who might be the child she gave up for adoption, where Rudd teaches and neglects his own adopted kid, Fey’s character tries to put pieces of her puzzled life together. Though Admission is framed in terms of getting into Princeton, it’s really and cleverly about getting back to reality. The self-taught student, played with congenial perfection by Nat Wolff, learns to tether himself to facts, so does Rudd’s rogue father-teacher and so, with poignancy, does Fey’s academic. Her character ultimately strives to live by her passion for learning, overcome serious lapses of judgment caused by overcorrections to deficits that distorted her view of reality. It’s not as heavy as that sounds, but by the time she figures out what deserves admission — in school, in love and in life — all is well and a child gets the parenting that’s richly deserved.
Admission is simple and light in its charms, like Legally Blonde but not as broad, and Tina Fey comes through as an everywoman — like Steve Carell, who has mastered a career of playing decent, sometimes honorable, men — in a movie that’s redeemed with a parentally-driven theme which is perfectly and humanly captured in its last line, in particular the last two words.