Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are two of the most charming comedic actors working right now, so combine their smiling faces and you should have an avalanche of charm so thick that it would even make a psychotic dictator in coma wake up and blush. Their match-up movie Admission thrives almost exclusively on the collective appeal of those two leads and a well chosen supporting cast. It’s a wafer thin romantic comedy about childrearing, love, and college admissions that does nothing more daring that provoke gentle laughs and gushy smiles. It’s the type of thing that would be easy to dismiss as fluff because…well, it is. However, there’s nothing wrong with fluff when it’s created with a good intentions, features a cast this strong and at least isn’t totally predictable while gently marching towards the logical conclusion. If you want to giggle and smile at two actors you already love and possibly well up a bit when the time is right, this thing should do the trick.
Fey stars as a Princeton admissions officer whose life is defined by picking out a few high school kids who can carry the school’s brand while breaking the heart of every other applicant. She’s got a predictable life with a boring professor husband (a particularly mousey Michael Sheen) and just might be on the way to getting promoted with her boss/mentor (Wallace Shawn) heading into retirement. Then of course things go all topsy-turvy. Her husband leaves her for a bitchy Virginia Woolf scholar and she’s unexpectedly contacted by a teacher (Paul Rudd) from an experimental school with hyper-intelligent student (Nat Wolff) who has a low GPA and still wants to get into Princeton. Rudd is a world-traveler with a charming sense of humor and an adopted son who makes Fey feel all fuzzy. Then to complicate things, he tells her that Wolff might actually be the long lost son who she gave up for adoption back in college. Whoo-boy, that’s a lot for Fey to take in, but also the sort of thing that brings about comedic misunderstandings and positive life changes.
An uptight career woman learning to find the joys of love and motherhood is one of the more tired rom-com conceits out there, but Admission gets away with taking another dip in that well thanks to perfect casting and some unexpectedly mature storytelling. Fey is of course hilarious and heartfelt in her role. It’s the type of comedy she does effortlessly and after her years at 30 Rock she’s matured into a talented actress to match her comedic chops. Her warmth and wit prevent her character from ever feeling like the collection of shtick and neurosis it so easily could have been. The same is true of Rudd. He’s been stuck in these fantasy male roles before, but has enough goofball charm and easygoing humor to invest a little humanity into the idealized husband material. As expected, the duo have enough chemistry to power a major city and simply watching them bat comedic dialogue back and forth is enough to make Admission a pleasure.
The supporting cast is also talented enough to step in and carry the laugh loads whenever the leads have to get serious. No one makes nasal-voiced pretension funnier than Wallace Shawn, so he’s an ideal institutional foil, while Michael Sheen trots out a variation on his self-absorbed douche role from Midnight in Paris and gets plenty of laughs as well. However, the cast’s real MVP is Lilly Tomlin as Fey’s uber-individualist feminist mother. Aside from the comedy geek charm of the stunt casting that links two iconic comediennes together as mother/daughter, Tomlin brings some edge to the movie in a fairly nasty mother role (well, by rom-com standards. She’s no Mamma Bates) and brings in some welcome subversive laughs amidst all the warm and fuzzies.
In charge of it all is director Paul Weitz who helped create the American Pie franchise and co-directed About A Boy with his brother Chris before breaking off onto his own with movies like American Dreamz and Being Flynn. His past work is a good indicator of what to expect out of Admission. His movies are crowd pleasers, yet they aren’t afraid to dodge convention and even dip their toes in harsh emotions when necessary. What he does with Admission is hardly groundbreaking, but the film does ring more honest tears between the jokes than required and actually plops a few unexpected twists in the plot when things should be falling into a comfortable groove in the third act. That’s really all you need to make a movie like this work. No one will enter Admission expecting to see cinema redefined, but as long as you don’t condescend to the audience or give them a collection of clichés devoid of charm, you’ve got a winner. Admission still lives and dies and the too cute pairing of Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, but at least they can carry the load and the movie around them actually supports their talents rather than detracting from them. It’s no masterpiece, but it’ll fill the gentle rom-com void in theaters just fine for a few weeks.