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Weak writing drags down Fey, Rudd in 'Admission'

Focus

By Andrew McClure, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 29, 2013

Rewind to elementary-school lunchtime. “Walking tacos” assume the main entrée role — a mediocre meal whose Fritos corn chips act as saving grace for otherwise egregious slop. That’s the rumor, at least. Unbeknownst to all, the questionable lunch lady decided to replace said entrée with hyperquestionable sloppy joes — a downright airball of a meal. Paul Weitz’s “Admission” parallels the same paradigm in morphing weak expectations into pathetic ones. But, hey, a kid’s gotta eat, right?

The man who brought you the novel virginity pact, director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”), returns to the silver screen with a film whose humor equates to a Stifler-less “Pie.” Yikes.

He blindly stabs at “relevant” source material with college admissions and the lobotomized, transcript-manic hopefuls, but he falls lightyears shy as his film instead drives into hackneyed territory of sappy family estrangement. Sometimes the sappy shit works, and salty discharges fill a theater, but would you weep at the funeral of your pet rock? C’mon.

Portia Nathan (Tina Fey, TV’s “30 Rock”) almost runs admissions at Princeton. She’s a few strong candidates away from locking in the desirable Head of Admissions promotion. She works hard and fakes a smile. Her 10-year, live-in male friend doesn’t share her obsession over their relationship, as he quietly porks a spicy English professor. Portia’s oblivious.

Her final tour road trips commence. She delivers the same old “Be Yourself” spiel for every school until she comes to John Pressman’s (Paul Rudd, “This Is 40”) alternative school. Instead of calculus, kids learn through action by building irrigation systems, for example, to “leave the planet better than when we found it.” The kids don’t take kindly to Portia, deeming her a corporate witch. John introduces to Portia the silver lining in autodidact Jeremiah (Nat Wolff, “Stuck in Love”), her potentially long-lost son.

Fey is an interesting phenomenon. She can kill as host of an award show. She can kill as a spectacled teacher in “Mean Girls.” And she for damn sure can murder as Liz Lemon on NBC’s “30 Rock.” But let’s step back and corner what common thread allows her to succeed in these roles: self-deprecation and witty humility. “Admission” offers none of this. Rather, it offers a dejected, unfunny, desperate and entirely dull vegetable. Her indecision in what she wants vexes viewers as she juggles work, misery, estranged children and more work. It’s just no fun. You hate to see Fey subject to such bland scriptwriting, but post-“30 Rock,” she’s currently unemployed, no?

In his recent, “This Is 40,” Rudd demonstrated incompetence in a leading role. “Admission” served an encore to this trend. His evolution from snarky nice guy (“40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) to flat-footed nice guy (“I Love You, Man” to present) leaves something void on the table. His humanitarian, nature-boy personality at no point challenges viewers and surely folds during laugh opportunities.

Fortunately, Lily Tomlin (“The Late Show”) adds some depth and color as Portia’s distant mother. It’s never a good thing, though, when a minor character leaves the sole good memory in a movie.

The film reaches too far and too short: too far in its mawkish thematic elements of love and isolation; too short in its probing of the intricacies of college admissions and, further, acceptance in all life’s lotteries.

The vile sloppy joe will suffice for now, but I’ll be hungry again come recess.


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