San Francisco Chronicle
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 22, 2013
Everybody in "Admission" is funny — Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn — but they're not funny in "Admission." The movie is a drama with wisecracks, with some random scenes tilting oddly in the direction of comedy, but without producing a laugh. Tina Fey should be glad she made it, because here and there it shows that she can act and hold the screen without benefit of humor. But if she was looking for a chance at a serious movie, this isn't quite it.
"Admission" isn't quite anything. It could be called a comedy-drama, not by virtue of its capturing a wide swath of human experience, but rather by its being effectively neither comic nor dramatic. It's alive only in spurts, and if any feeling at all comes through it, it's one of vague sadness. It feels, looks and radiates drabness, and its tone is jarring.
An example might be helpful. Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton, and she's in a car with Paul Rudd, who plays a guy who runs an alternative high school. Their interaction is straightforward, and then suddenly bad comedy kicks in. Convinced he's about to make a romantic move on her, she insists she's "happy" with her boyfriend.
"Wow," she says. "‘Happy' is one of those words that if you say it a lot, it loses its meaning. Like ‘fork,' fork, fork, fork, fork, happy, happy, happy, happy."
It's as if screenwriter Karen Croner were typing along, decided it was time to lighten the tone and thought one good way to do it might be to turn her lead character into a 6-year-old. In the next scene, our heroine is back to being a grown-up, but the world of the movie, its reality, is diminished. And this kind of tonal awkwardness occurs again and again.
Yet there is a certain something about "Admission" that resists being dismissed, and that something is no mystery: It's Fey. As Portia, who has lived with the same weenie boyfriend (Michael Sheen) for years, and who has worked in the same office her entire professional life — with furniture straight out of "Goodbye Mr. Chips" — Fey has an odd resignation about her. It's a mix of wisdom about life and disappointment in herself.
To see her here is to feel that she is really playing somebody, that she knows this woman.
Yes, the script lets her down, or maybe it's director Paul Weitz, or maybe it's herself, undercutting her performance by leaning too hard, in places, on the comedy.
But there's something in that tableau, of a woman at her desk in an old office, trying to do her best, that communicates an intangible truth.
That's not nothing. But it's really all that "Admission" has — that and a couple of good scenes, where that image, where that woman, gets to show herself.